Frames and Filters: Rethinking the Photographic Archive

Doireann Wallace (Thesis), Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Theses, Ph.D

Successfully submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) to the Dublin Institute of Technology, July, 2011.


The basic premise of this thesis is that the photographic archive needs to be substantially rethought in the age of its assimilation by digital networked computing – and not only in terms of a dematerialisation at the level of its substrate, but of transformations in the relationship between words and images. Today, when the condition of photographs within what might still broadly be termed archives has been significantly modified by digitisation and the rapid expansion of the Internet, this issue is more crucial than ever. Access to images remains almost exclusively mediated by words in the networked digital archive, but the relationship between the two is now managed by an assemblage comprising technical platforms and programs, which modify the possibilities of use even as they anticipate and adapt to it. I articulate the key terms of this change as a shift from the dominance of verbal frames more bound to disciplinary apparatuses and institutions to that of the management of these frames by new technical filters operating as and within control structures, to follow Gilles Deleuze’s distinction. Tracing these dynamics across a range of sites, from general purpose image search engines to photo-sharing platforms to the commercial construction of proprietary closed vocabularies and the filtering operations affecting corpus formation in the image banks that now control so much of the trade in photographs, I aim to provide a theoretical account of the ‘basic sociotechnological conditions’ (Deleuze [1990] 1995) governing semantic and practical access to the photographic archive within control societies.