Grey Room

From Microform to the Drawing Bot: The Photographic Image as Data

Estelle Blaschke


Building on our drive to expand Grey Room’s chronological, geographical, and linguistic engagements, we are pleased to introduce a copublication with Transbordeur, a new journal published in French by Macula and dedicated to the infrastructural lives of photography.—The Editors

In the highly complex and widely researched field of image-text relationship, this article concentrates on photography’s ability to serve not only as an image carrier but as a carrier of data. The idea of infusing images with data—to render them “more” informative—culminated and was made possible by digital photography and image-scanning technology, which produce copies in the form of a binary code. However, these technologies of data tagging can be traced back to nineteenth- and twentieth-century photographic practices, practices that fundamentally differ from the understanding of photography as an artistic medium. These essentially utilitarian uses of photography underpin the general hypothesis of this article: that methods of making images more informative in a standardized and scalable way have been driven by the desire to make images “more” exploitable for a variety of uses—from business and industry to scientific research and knowledge transmission.