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Seeking solutions to problems of visual communication in our time

A group of Researchers at LSBU have established a centre to investigate the ways in which computer and network culture is influencing the visual arts

How is computer culture changing the visual arts?

The Centre for the Study of the Networked Image (CSNI) brings together a group of researchers seeking new knowledge and understanding of how network and computer culture has, and is, changing the production and reception of the visual arts, including photography.

In particular, it is looking at the automation of visual culture through computing, and seeking answers to contemporary questions such as 'how are computer’s being ‘trained’ to see'? How will the application of algorithms of vision influence how we receive and understand images, and how do those images relate to external events and realities? What are the new forms of deciding the cultural value of the circulation of images online?

Research into the uses and impact of computer visualisation systems and their effects upon society is still in its infancy. CSNI provides a focus for both advancing and evaluating this research as well as for defining new questions for future investigations.

Prof. Andrew Dewdney

The networked image

Professor of Educational Development, Andrew Dewdney, reveals more: “Looking at the emergent media of the internet from the perspective of when old (pre-digital) media was new reminds us that our current definitions of the digital equivalents of analogue media are far from settled. What defines network media is precisely the sense that it is permanently under construction, ephemeral, if not fugitive by nature.

"For us the term ‘networked image’ is a temporary placeholder for a set of contemporary practices, platforms, software and computer programs that are re-configuring the visual and sonic in culture and shifting settled notions of temporality (time), movement and space.”

Addressing contemporary problems of visual communication

Professor Dewdney says that CSNI exists to seek answers to pressing problems of visual communication in our time. “The internet, computer networks and digital technologies have transformed the environment of knowledge and information as well as everyday life. Research into the uses and impact of computer visualisation systems and their effects upon society is still in its infancy. The centre provides a focus for both advancing and evaluating this research as well as for defining new questions for future investigations.”

Research specialisms

The Centre has four related research topics: photography, performance, curation, and archives, which are reflected in the projects undertaken. Research specialisms include art theory, art practice, art history, curation, performance, photography, sociology of culture, and cultural and media studies. CSNI emphasises embedded, collaborative and co-creation approaches to research, with empirical fieldwork, research approaches and methodologies to connect policy, practice and theory actively encouraged.

Working in partnership

The Centre is currently in partnerships with the Photographers’ Gallery, London, and Rhizome, New York, based around collaborative PhD research that looks at public exhibition and curation of online content, as well as access to digital archives. “At the moment we are using a range of research methods to identify our objects of study drawn from science and technology studies and Actor Network Theory,” adds Professor Dewdney. “Our approaches include practice led research in working with new media artists, with our contribution to trans-disciplinary research being to bring researchers together across the fields of art, science and technology."

What does the future hold?

“As with most projects of this nature, the challenges include convincing funders that our outlook and approach are worthy, seeking technology partners and striking the right balance between critical understanding and real world applications. However, with what has been achieved so far, I am convinced that the centre will go from strength to strength. Exciting future plans include a collaboration with the Royal College of Art and University of Amsterdam on a new project, looking at online archiving, with a case study of the Google Art Project and Google gigapixel camera.”

Research impacts:

  • The work of Professor Dewdney and his team at the CSNI has been showcased in conferences and forums held in an array of countries, including Brazil, Sweden, USA and Germany, and this has led to a number of invited, online blogs.
  • CSNI and The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG) are research partners, involved in collaborative PhD Research on the computational image and run a related annual public programme of workshops and talks.
  • Andrew’s work with Katrina Sluis, lecturer at LSBU and Curator of Digital Programmes at TPG has recently led to ‘Unthinking Photography’, a new online resource for exploring, mapping and responding to photography’s digital, networked life.