In this text I’d like to talk about images as communication medium (that contains and conveys information).To do so I will compare image to text (writing) - as two distinct forms of communication and the culture that has been formed around them (literary culture and visual culture) using theories proposed by early media theorist Vilem Flusser. With this analogy I’d like to demonstrate the properties that are characteristic to images and the culture inherit in them. If in the literary culture (universe) its smallest particle would be a thought articulated through writing than image would be that smallest particle in visual culture (universe).
In 80s media theorist Vilem Flusser proposed a theory of dichotomy between text and image. Although this devision was fairly embraced by his contemporaries (McLuhan, Barthes) in the contemporary media theory it’s not as popular. Contemporary media theorists are rather interested in the relation between these two mediums since they coexist in the same space and don’t exclude each other, so such dichotomy seems to extreme. However there is a lot can be articulate through this analogy, by comparing image to text we can see how these two have their own ‘language’ and how they communicate information. To put it in McLuhan’s therms - If an image is a medium of communication how does it affect the information that it carries (signifies)?
In his theory Flusser starts by simple description of images: “Images are significant surfaces. Images signify - mainly - something 'out there' in space and time that they have to make comprehensible to us as abstractions (as reductions of the four dimensions of space and time to the two surface dimensions).”
Flusser goes on by compering the structure of images to that of text. Where images are abstractions of two dimensions, theft is one dimensional (linear). Where text is linear (has a beginning and an end), image are non linear, its information is spread on a surface. Where in text each element (word, sentence) has to be placed accurately - one after another in the image elements are presented simultaneously. This plays a curtail role on how we extract (read) information from this mediums.
Flusser gives few clever examples to illustrate the difference between ‘reading’ an image (Flusser uses the word ‘scan’) and reading text.
“ …one's gaze follows a complex path formed, on the one hand, by the structure of the image and, on the other, by the observer's intentions. The significance of the image as revealed in the process of scanning therefore represents a synthesis of two intentions: one manifested in the image and the other belonging to the observer. It follows that images are not 'denotative' (unambiguous) complexes of symbols (like numbers, for example) but 'connotative' (ambiguous) complexes of symbols: They provide space for interpretation. While wandering over the surface of the image, one's gaze takes in one element after another and produces temporal relationships between them. It can return to an element of the image it has already seen, and 'before' can become 'after': The time reconstructed by scanning is an eternal recurrence of the same process. Simultaneously, however, one's gaze also produces significant relationships between elements of the image. It can return again and again to a specific element of the image and elevate it to the level of a carrier of the image's significance. Then complexes of significance arise in which one element bestows significance on another and from which the carrier derives its own significance: The space reconstructed by scanning is the space of mutual significance”
So we see that images operate in a different realm than text - they have their own language of communication. If we take the realm of text as one of ‘logical’ where everything is ordered according to certain principles, in an image we enter the realm of what Flusser calls is ‘magic’. To start with Flusser talks about the imagination as a necessary faculty for producing and understanding images. “This specific ability to abstract surfaces out of space and time and to project them back into space and time is what is known as 'imagination'. It is the pre-condition for the production and decoding of images. In other words: the ability to encode phenomena into two- dimensional symbols and to read these symbols.”
Flusser continues on the magical nature of images again by comparing it to text. He shows how the structure of these mediums constitute ‘world’ around them and peculiarities of these ‘worlds’
“This space and time peculiar to the image is none other than the world of magic, a world in which everything is repeated and in which everything participates in a significant context. Such a world is structurally different from that of the linear world of history in which nothing is repeated and in which everything has causes and will have consequences. For example: In the historical world, sun- rise is the cause of the cock's crowing; in the magical one, sunrise signifies crowing and crowing signifies sunrise. The significance of images is magical.”
Images are mediation to explain the world, to make it comprehensible for human. too help the to oriented in the world that they have been thrown into. To express the experience through imagination. But when the relation of there two shifts, when humans use their experience in the world to oriented in the image - this phenomena is idolatry. The image becomes the reality, the world only a pretext to it. (richer second hand reality)