Nicholas Mirzoeff

Nicholas Mirzoeff is professor of media, cultural and communication studies at the American University of New York Steinhardt. He described the field of visual culture two overview books: An Introduction to Visual Culture (1999) and The Visual Culture Reader (1998). He later devoted himself to the phenomenon of modern visual communications. In the book How to See The World (2015), he described the effects of the first visual revolution of the 19th century (the emergence of film, photography and X-rays) and scientific inventions of the 17th century (microscope, telescope, and maps) and put them in the context of the present visual abundance of Facebook, Instagram and images of surveillance cameras. With the book The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (2011), he explored alternative visual (political) history of the 20th century, including the Black Lives Matter movement – which he covered as a visual activist.

Photography has traditionally been a symbiosis between a human and a machine. Now it is also a symbiosis between a non-human and a machine.

Optical and mechanical tools were the first major “augmentation” of human senses. The microscope approached the worlds that were too small for the optical performance of the eye. The telescope touched the too far-off space; X-rays radiated the inaccessible interior of the body. Such augmentations were not innocent, as they demanded a different interpretation of the world, which would correspond to images of infinitely small, remote or hidden. Similar augmentation is now happening with cloud computing, machine vision and artificial intelligence. With these tools, it may be possible to compile and analyze billions of digital images created daily by people and machines. But who will analyze these images and for what purpose? Will they help us to better understand society and learn from past mistakes? Or have they already been hijacked by attention-merchants and political demagogues who are effectively spreading old ideologies with new communication technologies?

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