Toward a Critical Theory of WEBCAMOGRAPHY

It is well-known that an automaton once existed, which was so constructed that it could counter any move of a chess-player with a counter-move, and thereby assure itself of victory in the match.

Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History

I propose a theory for ‘webcamography.’ Webcamographs are the product of the WebCam Automaton, depicted here schematically:


There are of course many other networked devices than the few illustrated here, perhaps best represented by the Google global, terrestrial panopticon, NASA’s Earth Observatory network of satellites, and the Very Long Baseline Array, a single imaging device distributed over Earth’s surface (from New Mexico to Hawaii, California, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, and the Virgin Islands). The WebCam Automaton is an image production system comprised of all such devices, and all those that will be networked in future. But it also includes the equally massive collective effort of humans uploading images to the net. It is ceaselessly at work, and its aim is the TOTAL VISUALIZATION of both Earth and the Universe, in digital form. Debord never imagined a Digital Spectacle. Webcamography, as primitively conceived in this short excursus, may be a means by which to rethink Situationism for the digital era.

WebCam Automaton’s ceaseless simulation raises particular problems for a theory of representation. Just as photographic “stills” derive from a film’s single frames; so the WebCam Automaton produces stills from the net’s global image flows; or adds stills to these flows. And just as sequences of stills are necessary for representing a scene from a film, so are sequences or assemblages necessary for representing some eddy, current, or vortex from WebCam image flows. Image flows produced by the WebCam Automaton never allow for representation through a single frame. Thus the sequence is the only form capable of representations of its limitless production, and absolutely limited to only partial representation. Sequences may be compressed within a single frame, or elaborated through assemblages of multiple frames; but no comprehensive representation is possible. “Photography” in this context is no longer a primary activity, but merely an epiphenomenon of WebCam Automaton’s infinite progressus.


Paradoxically, WebCam Automaton leads to an odd form of iconoclasm; its massive flows make invisible the connections between nodes of the Spectacle, and leads therefore to what I will call the theophany of a transcendentalist imagistics which hides the forces of power and politics. A critical theory of WebCamography must function to articulate the relations that the Spectacle ironically works to make invisible. Because the latter materially inscribes the invisible, the task of the former is to ‘present’ the operations that the Spectacle performs in order to achieve its technical integration. These operations consist of an array of double crosses or reciprocal negations (invisibilities) that permeate the entire spectrum of power. Forms of cultural analysis that fail to expose these operations as arrays of negations fail to expose its forms of political oppression. The aim of critical webcamography is to do precisely that.


Toward a Critical Theory of WEBCAMOGRAPHY

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