Digital Image in Photographic Culture: Algorithmic photography and the crisis of representation

Photo made of digital tiles

Photo mosaic algorithm



This chapter seems like a denser read than some of the other recommendations to date and as a result this feels like an initial response as I am sure it will warrant re-reading in future. It is thought provoking in terms of exploring how we regard the digital photograph and the paradigms that have shaped our relationship to photographs.

What is being offered to the viewer of Titanic is life reduced to a sequence of frozen moments: bound to the world of emerging technological complexity, but ultimately detached from expressivity and spontaneity.(Rubinstein & Sluis, 2013: 23)

Rubenstein and Sluis (2013) draw comparisons between the photographic records in the scene of Titanic and those in Memento. In one, Titanic, the photographs are placed in such a way as to represent a linear life, in the other they carry multiple narratives and temporalities.

But Leonard has also created his own clues with what Esther M. Sternberg dubs “a meticulous artificial memory system”. His main problem is his confusion of photographs with objects. Whatever their status as tangible things, they are primarily vessels of information that carries little in the way of inalienable factual weight, despite the assertion in the tattoo that reads “CAMERA NEVER LIES”. (North, 2009)

This raises the interesting notion of the photograph facing in two directions at the same time. It is concerned with both the objects and subjects it captures as well as pointing ‘towards photography’s own conditions of manufacturing.’(Rubinstein & Sluis, 2013: 25)

This brings to the fore a discussion of the influence of Cartesian thought, at the time of mind/body split, images move from metaphorical and aesthetic to rational and objective truth. Something that Memento clearly plays with in its narrative structure. This positions photography as an ‘offshoot of objectivity and empiricism.’ and in doing so it seems to me to place it within a positivist paradigm and realist ontology, something that I have never accorded to photography and something I feel has always been in question even before digital.

…photographs are first and foremost bound to the world itself rather than to cultural systems (Rubinstein & Sluis, 2013: 25)

The chapter seems to challenge this relationship and belief as it moves towards algorithmic processes and data. Now we have a process that serve to create images that for the most part (but not always) create pictures that look like what we know as ‘photographs.’


North, D. (2009). Memento: “The Camera Never Lies”.   Retrieved 1st November 2017, from

Rubinstein, D., & Sluis, K. (2013). The Digital Image in Photographic Culture. The photographic image in digital culture, 22-40.