Artist Meets Archive#3 exhibition during Photoszene Festival 2023
The following projects are the outcome of a research residency at RBA Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne. The starting point of my investigation were around 1m3 of analogue travel photographs and stereoscopic images, produced between 1961-1999 by Karl-Heinz Hatlé. They had just been included in the RBA archive and now had to be digitised in a very labour-intensive process in order to preserve them for future generations and make them accessible to the public.
how do we connect with the world on an analogue - digital level?
visual impression/ 3D images VS physical experience
how many hands have touched the analogue objects and digital products we use every day?
automated vs handmade labeling of large datasets
what's the difference between public vs private archives?
purpose of / access to / life span / categories / censorship / ...
A series of 15 seeing aids that transform the visual appearance of the visitors in the exhibition as well as their view on the objects. The visitors can use these stereoscopic masks to explore 3D effects inside the two bodies of work:
The Original Taste / Performing for the Camera
The masks are the result of a workshop with students from Gesamtschule Holweide regarding public image archives like the RBA in comparison to Instagram, as todays most popular but privately owned image archive. How does this social network inform our collective behavior off- and online? How does it attract our attention and shape our perception? We observed how this platform seduces and influences our decisions in a playful manner by suggesting filters, hashtags, locations and social connections. We also discussed how our personal photographs are turned from medias of memory and communication into instruments of social control and surveillance in the framework of such apps. We touched on topics like data mining, location tracking, face recognition and the question if we as "Prosumers" should be payed for the labor we unconsciously perform while scrolling through, posting and liking images.
The Original Taste, a Tasty Takeover
16 folders with self designed archive cards that trace down the accident appearance and the percentage of space that American consumer products like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Marlboro occupy in the travel photographs of Karl-Heinz Hatlé and equivalently in the public space all around the globe.
--> supranational American brands shape our environments:
analogue world = Coca Cola / Pepsi / Marlboro...
digital world = Google / Meta / Amazon...
Performing for the Camera, Dias VS Instagram
A popular technique in the analogue era for presenting photographs to a wider audience was via diapositives. Instagram, currently the most popular photo sharing app, is clearly inspired by the aesthetic and format of this earlier medium. In a series of curtains, I juxtapose stereoscopic images from Hatlé, that show people posing or performing for the camera, with images that I found in Instagrams database, using the typewritten caption as #.
Launched in 2010 Instagram has 2 billion users today = 25.31% of the world’s population use the platform actively. This means:
1. this platform is significantly influencing the way people look at and present themselves to the world.
2. users are collectively building an image archive of the present whose data volume far exceeds that of the RBA or any other publicly owned image archive.
The Rheinisches Bildarchiv (RBA) is one of the largest public art-historical picture archives in Germany with approximately 5.5 million analogue and digital images. The number of daily uploaded pictures / videos on Instagram is estimated at 95 million.
While the RBA’s mission is to ensure the conservation of knowledge and history for future generations to come and to serve the public good no one knows under which conditions and if at all Instagrams database will still be accessible in 20 or 50 years. Deeply rooted in a commercial logic Instagram has to remain profitable in order to persist. So how will the platform explore its collectively built visual archive? How does it already capitalise on the behavioural patterns we unintentionally exhibit when we perform everyday gestures such as scrolling, liking, posting, tagging and sharing images.
Ghosts@Work, Framing Your View
Living in a globalized world marked by the exchange of physical and digital goods - do we ever think about the people behind the products of our daily consumption? Inside Hatlé’s photographs I searched for pictures that show people at work and then fed Google Vision AI - an AI system for content recognition and image annotation - with these images.
—> green frames = objects detected /highlighted by Google Vision AI
--> gestures of manual labor = the section of the picture that I allow the viewer to see
--> black panels = reference the 3:4 display format that became a standard with the rise of digital photographs and screens / the "back-box" character of AI / the tools used to create this series
While AI intentionally hides the human labor required for its training and functioning, the black panels in the background of my works instead, make the tools of their production explicitly visible. As soon as the viewer steps aside, photogram like imprints of sand paper, tooth blades, paint rollers, pliers, screws and other objects manipulated to create the series, become visible as shadow figures.
Ghosts@Work, Text as Key
An image that has no annotations is dead - meaning that there is no way to find it inside an archive. In this series I confront 3 types of image descriptions. The handwritten label glued on a diapositive by Hatlé. The labels that Google Vision AI automatically generates in order to describe an image and the textual metadata that the RBA adds to its images as soon as they are digitized.
Whereas Google intentionally obscures the rules its AI system follows in order to categorize, select, rank and tag image contents, the RBA's parameters instead are transparent, for example they use: Iconclass. This is a classification system for the content of images that the RBA and archives worldwide use. It allows interchange of knowledge among borders and thus follows the general idea to conserve and provide information for public good. Compared to the terms and topics that Google Vision AI attributes to images its commercial orientation becomes evident. Strikingly often the AI recognizes packaged goods, hats, t-shirts, kitchen equipment and other trending topics. Every topic that appears with a confidence score of more than 50% gets a label saying for example: 67% sure this is a desk but also 23 % sure this is a bed. Whereas information is only included in the RBA database if it can be verified through trustworthy sources Google seams to follow the premise : a wrong label is better than no label.