Interview by Jörg M. Colberg

Joshua Citarella

Foam Magazine


FOAM: Let me start off with a simple question. What makes a good photograph? What separates a good photo from a bad photo?

JC: I want to make images which critically explore photographic conventions; those that have the greatest discursive influence and shape the culture(s) in which they circulate.

FOAM: How did you get interested in investigating the medium photography itself?

JC: Where viewership now primarily takes place through print or on the screen, meaning is often attributed to, but does not necessarily occur at, the object itself. Under the contemporary models of distribution, the mode of image production becomes the appraisal of value for the represented object. I think this translation space is worth investigating.

FOAM: Can you expand on that?

JC: I think we see this type of appraisal demonstrated in a number of fields; in e-commerce, products attract more sales when displayed on a seamless white background. In advertising, high budget campaigns utilize photo-realistic re-touching while lower budget ones usually appear soft and airbrushed. In journalism, camera crews are dispatched to cover major stories while amateur cell-phone photographs suffice for less important events. In art, well lit and properly color-balanced installation views imply a more prestigious exhibition space. These are just a few examples where a physical object or event is primarily communicated as an image. Each supposes an equation where the amount of labor in image production is proportionate to the economic, social or cultural value of the represented object.

Recognizing this convention, one can see instances where a disproportionate amount labor in image production could serve to inflate or depreciate the value of the represented object. This becomes significant when our collective conception towards the meaning and value of those objects is almost entirely informed by images. Here we can see photographic description and digital image production reapportioning relative values and hierarchies within the world around us.

FOAM: In your statement you mention the ideological subtext of photographs. Can you expand on that? What kind of ideologies are you thinking of? And why is this important?

JC: The camera in conjunction with an array of physical and digital tools currently has a monopoly over image production. The presence of these tools begins to form new descriptive systems and new conceptual frameworks, which guide both individual thought and the evolution of culture as a whole.

In a society where communication is increasingly image-based, where all images share the same means of production, it would seem to me that we are obliged to pose a critical investigation, to sift out any soft or incidental set of path-ways. Uke a stream following the path of least resistance, this hardware/software facilitated certain productive flows.

The ideological subtext of these images emerges from their program. They imply that the world is populated by source materials that lie in wait for their sublimation into digital images. They anticipate their own alchemical transformations in form and context. They implicate RGB pixels as the prima materia, delivering objects from the dim confines of materiality into omnipresent electronic radiance.

Today’s desert of the real is not one of sand but a desert of ash; objects, materials and bodies now exist in our collective conception as digital images. Their physicality becomes only remnants pointing outward towards an image. As electronic signals, all things in the world are democratized into exchanges of energy, and through this transfiguration all materials are analogous to ash; the unwanted corporeal, carbon remains.

Here we can equate a technical analysis of image production with an ideological analysis of contemporary culture. Understanding our communication media is the first step in developing a philosophy towards understanding our society as a whole.

FOAM: And where can we go from here, especially given that photographs are ubiquitous, and millions are being made and shared every day?

JC: Images are not going out of fashion anytime soon. Technology will continue to progress. Images will continue to be more ubiquitious. The question we are faced with now is: how can we operate within this communicative fabric in the most responsible way possible? We need to propose an alternate direction for contemporary discourse within these same mediated channels. My aim is to create images that through an accessible means of demonstration are able to reveal the underlying productive tendencies of this communication media and to interrupt the expected functioning of the contemporary image to unveil its ideological subtext.

FOAM: How can we deal with the flood of images all around us?

JC: Learn to swim.

FOAM: And those that can’t swim drown?

JC: Those looking to escape the flood will take it upon themselves to build arks. These vessels will function as a means to preserve and differentiate certain images from those that drift aimlessly in the water. They can serve as communal hubs, as stationary ports in a global ocean, even as the sea level continues to rise.

We’re treading water in an attention economy. Today, there are more images in circulation than any one individual can consume. While we must hone our techniques to more quickly and efficiently consume images, we also look ~ specialized discursive centers to selectively disseminate images. I think this relationship between the flood, dialogical user driven networks, and the ark, discursive institutions, can serve as a means of mutual checks and balances that would reshape our culture in some exciting ways.


More information available at: