guest edited by Francesco Casetti (Yale University) and Antonio Somaini (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3)
One of the striking features of contemporary visual culture is the presence of a double, contrasting tendency. On the one hand a drive towards higher and higher degrees of definition and resolution of digital images, cameras, and screens, and on the other the wide circulation of images in low definition and resolution, images that are blurred, grainy, pixelated, and degraded in different ways. The first tendency – the rush towards higher definition – is promoted by marketing and advertising and is often associated with a whole ideology that weaves together values such as mimetic precision, sensory enhancement, immersive participation, and technological progress. The second one – the persistence of low definition – is often linked to a search for authenticity and to a need to explore the various aesthetic, visual, and temporal effects produced by different tools of image degradation such as grainy filters, pixelization effects, and glitch that are increasingly accessible to a wider public. How can we explain such a double tendency, which can be detected throughout the different domains of contemporary photography, cinema, visual arts, television series, and social media? What are its cultural meanings and its aesthetic, economic, epistemological, and political implications? How do the different degrees of definition of the images circulating across contemporary visual culture contribute to define and organise the media environments in which our personal and social experience takes place?
More than 50 years ago, in his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), Marshall McLuhan placed the distinction between high and low definition at the center of his media theory. By studying the technical specificities and the perceptual reception of the messages produced by different media, McLuhan formulated the crucial distinction between ‘hot media’ and ‘cool/cold media’, whose various implications are discussed throughout his entire book. The few details provided by the ‘mosaic mesh of light and dark spots’ that characterises the low definition of the television image, for example, were considered by McLuhan to be the reason that explained the high degree of audience perceptual and emotional involvement, as well as the emblem of ‘a passion for depth involvement in every aspect of experience’ that he saw emerging in various cultural domains such as literature, music, the visual arts, the press, fashion, design, and politics.
Even though the validity of many of McLuhan’s analyses cannot be simply transferred from the visual and media culture of the 1960s to the current visual and media landscape, we believe that his core intuition is still valid. The different, constantly changing degrees of definition that can be found in visual, sound, and audiovisual media do not have just a purely technological and perceptual dimension but also a wide variety of cultural, economic, and political implications. In her 2009 e-flux essay ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’, the German artist and theorist Hito Steyerl made a crucial contribution in this direction by studying the way in which the circulation of low-definition, highly compressed still and moving images brings to the fore the existence of a sort of ‘lumpenproletariat in the class society of appearances’ that is in deep contrast with the polished and impeccable visual material promoted by marketing and industrial logics.
We believe that it is now time to further develop these insights in order to understand the multiple aesthetic, economic, epistemological, and political implications of high and low definition within contemporary visual culture and contemporary media environments. Indeed, the question of resolution not only differentiates the ways in which digital images appear on the various screens with which we interact during our daily lives; it also contributes to define the different regimes of ‘distribution of sensible’ (Rancière) elicited by media, and consequently the configuration of space in which media operate. In other words, the varying degrees of resolution of images may affect not only our perception of them but also the way in which we locate them. Hence the profound impact of resolution degrees on the textures and structures of various media environments: from the screens of our smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers to those of home theater installations, from IMAX to D3D projections, from immersive video installations to different types of VR gear.
For this special section in NECSUS we call for contributions that analyse the current cultural meanings and the various aesthetic, economic, epistemological, and political implications of high and low definition and resolution in a wide variety of visual and audiovisual media. The proposals can deal with one or more of the following issues:
# what are the values currently associated with high and low definition and resolution?
# how do high and low definition and resolution affect the circulation of visual and audiovisual contents through contemporary visual culture?
# how do high and low definition and resolution affect our perception of the temporal status and the historicity of different visual and audiovisual contents?
# how do high and low definition contribute to defining the textures and structures of media environments? How do they influence our experience of media environments?
# what is the cultural role played by the different degrees of definition and resolution that characterise visual and audiovisual formats (.jpg, .tiff, .mp4, .gif, etc.), with their different forms of lossy or lossless compression?
# the analysis of interesting cases of high and/or low definition and resolution in contemporary photography, cinema, visual arts, television, and social media
# aesthetic practices based on the choice of exploring high and/or low definition and resolution
# economic implications of high and/or low definition and resolution
# the cultural meanings of the filters commonly used on social media (Instagram, etc.)
# the cultural meanings and the aesthetic, ethical, and political implications of pixelisation
# the cultural meanings of datamoshing, glitch effects, and other forms of image degradation
We look forward to receiving abstracts of 300 words, 3-5 bibliographic references, and a short biography of 100 words by 1 November 2017 at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org. On the basis of selected abstracts, writers will be invited to submit full manuscripts (5,000-7,000 words, revised abstract, 4-5 keywords) which will subsequently go through a double-blind peer review process.
NECSUS also accepts abstract submissions on a rolling basis throughout the year for a wide variety of articles on a number of themes related to media studies but not necessarily connected to a special section topic, in addition to proposals for festival, exhibition, and book reviews, as well as audiovisual essays. Please note that we do not accept full manuscripts for consideration without an invitation. Access our submission guidelines at http://www.necsus-ejms.org/guidelines-for-submission/.