VISUAL GAPS. LOW DEFINITION FOR AN ETHICS OF BEARING WITNESS I. Low Definition and Testimonial Image : The Visual Gap as Strategy of Authentication
I. LOW DEFINITION AND TESTIMONIAL IMAGE: THE VISUAL GAP AS STRATEGY OF AUTHENTICATION
By Cecilia Bima
Translated by Marguerite Shore
“Does the arrival of a new technology— photography, small video cameras, the Internet, smart phones —completely transform a society? Or at moments in history, do events in the making, call out for and conjure into being the new tools needed to document them—the old forms no longer able to seize them, suddenly rendered redundant, until one day, no longer relied upon, they may be re-visited in a completely fresh way?”54
The question posed by Waddington regarding the use of new technologies directly interrogates the ways in which photography, mini video cameras, the internet and smartphones have transformed society; namely, a subversion of the relationship between image and event is taking place, to the point that the latter requires new forms and new techniques of documentation. This reflection arises from the artist’s need to replace her old TRV-900, camera with a new high-definition camera, an HDV 1080i; its “over-lit, perfect sheen”, however, preserves nothing of the contradictions and incompleteness, typical of low-definition shots. Thus, the new media of high definition, ends up being defined as a reinforcement of certain and deliberate narratives, leaving no room for doubt and expectation, fundamental elements in the process of the authentication of the image..
In this regard, it is again Montani who introduces an extremely lucid line of reasoning, stressing the “differences of a qualitative order that new technologies would introduce into our relationship with the referential services of media images.”56 Well beyond a mere disagreement between high and low definition, Montani considers a broader scope of what is covered by the term “new technologies,” which includes, namely, all those digital techniques of vision which modify and mediate perception. […]
It is at this point of the argument that the thesis of Casetti and Somaini, cited at the beginning, reemerges as a suggestion and a question.61 Would a relationship exist between the anesthetic effect caused by a now “technically intuited” world and the so-called “numbness” — the numbness that McLuhan mentions — caused by the hyper-definition of the new media? The point of contact would seem to be located precisely in concurrence with the concept of technique, which, if disassociated from its task, also referential, acquires the power to project the viewer into the world of representation, “almost to the point of being able to touch it.” The amplification of sensations and the intensification of perception provoked by high-tech media can constitute an obstacle to critical reflection, in this manner producing a paradox with large implications on a social level. McLuhan thus notes the necessity for an “immunization,” that is, an antidote that can counter this dangerous drift, which Montani identifies in the nature of the “fund that technique draws upon.”
“The new media and technologies by which we amplify and extend ourselves constitute huge collective surgery carried out on the social body with complete disregard for antiseptic. If the operations are needed, the inevitability of infecting has to be considered. For in operating on society with a new technology, it is not the incised area that is most affected. The area of impact and incision is numb. It is the entire system that is changed. […] To have a disease without its symptoms is to be immune. No society has ever known enough about its actions to have developed immunity to its new extension or technologies. Today we have begun to sense that art may be able to provide such immunity.63
“Today we have begun to sense that art may be able to provide such immunity”; this assertion by McLuhan would seem to entrust art with the responsibility of immunizing from the numbing tensions of the media. Putting it differently, art, understood here as téchne, can help bring the viewer back to the active role of “addressee of an appeal,“64 with the intention of un-veiling the image. It is legitimate, however, to wonder how art can be considered a “possible form of comprehension of modern technique,“65 in the act of challenging this detrimental implication. Thus, Laura Waddington’s analysis develops this point in her documentaries ZONE, CARGO and Border, which lend themselves to an investigation of relationships between new and obsolete technologies, between the quality of the image and meanings that are produced. Hence questions will be raised regarding the modalities of activation of the process of authentication and how these enter into relationship with a blurry and undefined esthetic. […]
54 L. Waddington, Scattered Truth, op.cit.
56 P. Montani, L’imma-ginazione intermediale, Perlustrare, rifigurare, testimoniare il mondo visibile, cit., p. 21.
56 P. Montani, L’immaginazione intermediale, Perlustrare, rifigurare, testimoniare il mondo visibile, cit., p. 21.
63 F. Casetti, A. Somaini, The conflict between high definition and low definition in contemporary cine- ma, cit., pp. 415-22. See M. McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, McGraw-Hill. New York, Toronto, London, 1964.