The Phantastic Four

With the film-based photography of Benjamin's era, the technical apparatus required light-sensitive chemical reactions to take place in order for the original image to be reproduced in its negative state. To create a positive print from the negative image one would further submit the film to various chemical reactions and light sensitivities, inverting the colours and spatial coordinates in the process. To continue producing copies of the image — that is, to move from the chemical to the mechanical reproduction of which Benjamin analyzed — one must always return to the original negative print.

It should be noted that one could create a new negative from the positive, and then a positive from that new negative, and so on, but only at a substantial loss of fidelity in the process: +1, -1, (+1 * error), (-1 * error), (+1 * error^n), (-1 * error^n) … the introduction of this exponentially-increasing error coefficient (loss of fidelity, artefacts, etc.) becomes unacceptable after a certain point in the series. There is a binary value judgment introduced that privileges signal over noise. Thus, there must always be a filial relationship between the original negative and any successive print that is (mechanically) produced.

This genealogical bond is obsolesced in the age of the digital. The file replaces the filial. The technical imaging apparatus encodes and stores points of light as pixels in some compression format that tells the representing apparatus specifically how a grid was created on the plane of representation. Also included with this pixel mapping is a rich stream of meta-data about the image (eg. camera model, resolution, and increasingly, GPS coordinates). In other words, every digital photograph (and other computer file for that matter) contains within it all of the information required to make a perfect copy of itself without a loss of fidelity. A digital image is actually a precise hierarchy of languages ultimately resolvable to the ones and zeroes of binary computer bits: machine code describes these bits, the code of the file format tells how to compress these bits, human language is embedded in the file as meta-data. Many layers of representation are implied by a digital camera before the first photo is ever taken.

Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V: the new formula, not for mechanical reproduction, but for digital replication. If, for Benjamin, the cameraman was a surgeon to the painter's magician, then the digital photographer is a geneticist, detachedly creating new memes and replicating them throughout the network.

Where do we locate our ethical compass when the oedipal structure of filiation is replaced by replication? Wolfgang Schirmacher's Mother Di hybrid may be the symbolic heroin(e) of media culture (in both demagoguery and narcosis), but there are four figures that loom large as ethical models in media culture, in the age of hyper-signification, information architectures, fragmented subjectivities and contested language. These four are the real heroes, the ones who do all the "real" "work", while Mother Di replicates through the net like some campy God(dess), or perhaps Elvis. These four figures are the Translator, the DJ-Archivist, the Radical Cartographer, and the Hacker. Though each is endowed with particular superpowers, they share a similar ethic that emerges from their always-already technological. As a group these four figures span past and future, material and semiotic; in other words, they are the bubbling cauldron of resistance to a vectoral class effort to appropriate the whole potential of space and time.


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