In Conversation with Ryan Griffis

AIM IM with Ryan Griffis
16:27, Sept. 18, 2005

[question]I was thinking about how we could structure the conversation.[/question]

)k, I’m up for however you want to proceed.

[question]Would you mind backtracking a bit to the post you made on Empyre referring to the net’s geographical underpinnings. Because this whole idea of thinking through a very situated net fascinates me.[/question]

Ok, that post was in response to a series of comments that I think I ran across on Flickr, where someone had posted a comparison of the two images, one depicting an apparent white person “finding” food, and a black youth “looting.” (images taken in New Orleans post-Katrina)

[question]Yes, I think I know the one’s you are talking about.[/question]

Someone commented on the killing of some contractors on a bridge by the military, which was (for some odd reason) first reported in an Australian paper, but it was actually an Associated Press Story. Someone commented (without knowing it was an AP story) that it shouldn’t be trusted because it was from an Australian source. Here’s a link to the original images

[question]So somehow they were connecting authenticity to a geographical source.[/question]

Exactly, which seemed even more strange of an assertion given that this was all taking place on Flickr. It reminded me of some conversations that I think happened on the Underfire list, (a project by Jordan Crandall) a year or so ago, where the verifiability of images and their believability has kind of become accepted again in a weird way. Now that we know they’re digitally mediated, we can accept them as real because we get them so fast. Speed, seems to count as much as accuracy?

[question]It’s funny that you mention the Flickr example, De Geuzen has a sort of private blog where we shoot ideas to each other and test things out. Recently Femke (Snelting) posted a screen shot from Flickr. It was after the London bombings, and several people posted images of their television with news footage as if reporting on site. It made me think that site, even when it is a piece of equipment, like a computer or television, might be the point of reception…[/question]

That’s interesting. The Flickr post that revealed the “looting” versus “finding” images from Yahoo! news, which later actually removed the images (at least one) from their news site. I’m not sure why, I didn’t read any statement from Yahoo!, But the Flickr post acted as a kind of instant archive of what was there – it was also a screen shot of the pic in Yahoo!

[question]Was it almost like a ghost image taking on a life of its own through re-mediation..[/question]

Yes… like the image is fighting its own disappearance. knowing that it’s created for ephemeral purposes! Of course, not that I want to anthropomorphize the image…

[question]Yes, but I think you have a point or at least I understand what you mean.[/question]

When you made your comment about geographical underpinnings of the net, I started to wonder about it in two ways. First there is the element of verifiability which you referred to earlier, but also empathy, legibility and so on. In other words, whether we like it or not proximity and geography are still strong points of identification and orientation, or for that matter disassociation.. For example to go back to the story you recount, “You’re Australian…how do you know what is going on here…. etc.”

Good point. I think discussing site of reception as a way of critiquing image production is interesting. Especially, as the net becomes more about customization of communication (as a commodity), à la amazon.

[question]I’ve been reading a book called Watching Babylon by Nicholas Mirzoeff. Although the book has a few shortcomings, one of the things I appreciate about it is the fact that he tries to situate viewing war in the American suburbs. He literally asks what does it mean to view or receive such images in that context, the suburbs of Long Island… with Hummers, super-sized houses and drinks etc. Do you think the net be approached similarly?[/question]

Hmm… I would think in some ways. I’m also attracted to the work of people looking at the physical/geographical underpinnings of networks – analyzing the actual location of the infrastructure as point of departure. AUDC (an LA based collective) looks at the increasing consolidation of networked infrastructure, due to concerns of real estate and communication lines. For example, I think that this (looking at the physical needs of the infrastructure) taken together with concerns of reception open up lots of avenues.

[question]Can you elaborate more on what you mean by “the physical needs of the infrastructure”?[/question]

To use the AUDC example, they have generated a body of work on one building in LA, the One Wilshire Building, which became obsolete as a structure to house people (expenses), and so is mostly used to house servers, broadcast technology, etc. It became a central location for communication lines (fiber optics and such). So their concern is to visualize the materiality of the “economics of immateriality” (as the net is often discussed).

[question]oh, I understand what you mean now…[/question]

I also think of Trevor Paglen’s work regarding the US military’s presence in the South West US… that they locate their out of spatial and ideological concerns. The desert provides vast spaces where you can hide in the open and is considered a “no man’s land” in US mythology, despite the relocation and displacement of thousands of first nations there. So, Trevor tracks the physical infrastructure of a mostly invisible network of defense contractors and top secret government clearance through the fact that such large programs necessarily involve lots of stuff – money, space, people, equipment. So despite the whole invisibility of these top secret programs, they are all kinds of evidence left behind, mostly mundane budget figures that don’t add up, shipping and receiving reports, land usages contracts, etc. a different kind of network, but some similar concerns, I think.

[question]I guess in such a system, one could also map what truly is immaterial, meaning where there are no fiber optics or such..[/question]

Yes – really good point. using “negative space” so to speak…

What sparked this process, meaning the research for Historiography Tracer, for De Geuzen, if i may ask?

[question]Actually, it was the image of Iman Darweesh Al Hams… We saw her story…[/question]

That was a compelling story, indeed.

[question]Of course, regrettably, there are many like hers. But we watched her image over a period and how it slipped through Google, appearing en masse and then minimalizing again. What was striking was that the most widely circulated photograph was a family photo, something usually private.[/question]

Were you archiving any of these “tracings” in some way?

[question]To be honest, that is how Historiography Tracer as a research project came along.. we just started to wonder about how an image could be tracked (while realizing this is also scary.. meaning tracking is also negative; it has all of the trapping of surveillance.)[/question]

Yes, the problem of archives… But the software you’re conceptualizing is a really interesting proposition. Especially, in the world of increasing meta-data, RFID and other embedded information… Not only in tracking the immaterial aspects of commerce, but aspects that still have ties to very obvious physicality (images).

By commerce… I mean exchange more broadly – bad word choice.

[question]No, its actually not so bad; I understand what you mean.. I actually have been saying image currency so for me that aspect is there… Whether you refer to economics or meaning.[/question]

And I guess the two (meaning and economics) are even more difficult to isolate in the context of the net?

[question]Absolutely, they are actually pretty good bedfellows.[/question]

How have you been conceptualizing the idea of an application that would facilitate this tracing process?

Well, we are not there yet. That is what the first lab will be about..
In a way, I can imagine that it will be about defining a sort of brief, framework or set of perimeters to operate within; meaning, what would you want out of such a piece of software and what not. Is it indeed a piece of software, or a set of search terms, tags etc.?

I’m not sure… but I imagine it as a way to really analyze political economies on the net, something kind of missing from a lot of discussions I think. it reminds me of people looking at the political economy of blogs, and how the “link economy” functions there. Which I found almost revelatory when I first read that.

[question]In what way did you find it revelatory?[/question]

Well, for blogs the economic value, I guess is similar to television, comes from audience capturing. Looking at the exchange and status of images over the net (based on their exchange) could provide some really useful data. I was thinking of how Google already archives based on an analysis of exchange. what would it look like to visualize the appearance and disappearance of images – based on the popularity through links, etc.

[question]Connected to popularity, I was wondering about whether those links could be geographically situated…?[/question]

Meaning IP addresses possibly? It would be interesting to connect that through the geo locations of both user reception and ISPs maybe.

[question]Yes, absolutely…this is something we have been discussing…
thinking through ip addresses in terms of distribution and reception…that is, if it could be mapped in a non-sinister way….[/question]

That’s what I was just wondering! It would be tricky indeed…

[questionYes, tracking in general is a problem or double-sided desire…
but at the same time images float across the net and get cut off form their contexts…or are re-contextualized and this has profound implications and consequences][/question]

Yes, totally.

[question]If you think about images from Abu Ghraib… they turned up on so many different kinds of sites, ranging from the political to the pornographic..[/question]

Perhaps it would be enough to track the use/embedding of images on websites (maybe you could use WHOIS data as well?). I don’t think this is invasive, as it’s already visible data.

Other stats from sites could also be utilized…

[question]Yes, you are right… I guess in wanting to track images, we wanted to speak about circulation and what impact that has on the meaning of them; in other words what they represent.[/question]

Stats like referring pages, pages that may be embedding (hotlinking) images, visitors’ info, anything that’s already being archived as stats for the site’s admin. I would think that could all be made accessible?

[question]Yes, its funny, it is something so obvious…actually hiding in the light, that I don’t think we had the wherewithal to see it. Thanks.[/question]

I don’t know if that data can be accessed, but I think I’ve seen it done…

[question]Well, some people still use public netstats, in other words, the stats aren’t password protected…and others are private so it would be patchy…but it is worth looking into.. Hey, we’ve been chatting for a while now and I’m sure we both can use some time to reflect on what has been said. I was thinking that this conversation about the project could be our first and that then we can continue perhaps sometime on the weekend of the lab or afterwards as a sort of follow-up… would that suit you? (btw: feels strange to call it a project…research… is a better word…)[/question]

Yes, definitely. This is really interesting! I wish I could be there for the lab! and, yes – research it is….

To read more about Ryan’s projects, writing and collaborations go here.