01 May 2017 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

Often you’ll hear folks saying they prefer LPs to CDs (please don’t even ask such people about MP3s). It isn’t that the LP has greater fidelity to the original recording. It doesn’t. Instead, these listeners prefer an aesthetic of interference. They like the sonic limitations inherent to the process of recording for vinyl, and perhaps they also appreciate the homey crackles of the surface noise.

Apparently many of us like this aesthetic of interference — emphasizing the medium of the message — in our images, too. The halftone image was developed for printing to replicate continuous tones. Now, a plethora of online tutorials offer instruction on how to create halftones for digital images created and circulated exclusively electronically. (Not to mention: Instagram’s filters which replicate film prints.) The aesthetic of interference is ubiquitous.

What does the halftone image signify today? Historically, gritty half-tone images typically meant mass media images, the cheap printing on cheap paper of a newspaper or comic book. “Halftone” meant news or pop culture: a public, printed image. Now, the most widely circulated news images are digitally born, and digitally circulated. Many may never be printed.

So in 2017:

Is a halftone image a nostalgic image?

Is a halftone image a historical mass media image?

Or: is a halftone image just an aestheticized image?

In his famous essay “The Work of Art in the age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin wrote that a widely disseminated (read: mechanically printed) copy of an artwork diminished the aura of the original. But now in the digital age: print has its own aura.

Of course digital images have their own particular composition, which creates their own medium-native artifacts: pixels. Early bitmapped image were quickly aestheticized. The Digital Primitives (April Greiman, Emigre Fonts, etc.) eagerly exploited the look of the new technology. Now, thirty-something years later, the aesthetic of early computing and video games (think Super Mario Brothers Lego landscapes) is replicated using digital tools capable of creating images with much greater detail (i.e., higher fidelity). Bitmapped images and typefaces also embody an aesthetic of interference. (As I write this, I can’t help but think that “aesthetic of interference” also has metaphorical resonance in our contemporary age of resistance… perhaps that’s a whole other blog post.)

But what has yet to be aestheticized is the more run-of-the-mill pixelated image: for example, what you get when you print out a 72 dpi image. These images still look bad to us. How long until they are aestheticized? Until the specificity of this format is appreciated for its own unique characteristics? Similarly with the MP3: will its lossy compression be appreciated in the future in a way we just can’t fathom today? History suggests: yes.

Will it be when once high-res images replace low-res ones that we will appreciate the visible structure of digital images? Or: will it only be when a different medium (virtual reality?) replaces digital photographs that we will find appealing those images that reveal their illusion of simulated reality? (As Marshall McLuhan wrote: when a technology becomes obsolete, it becomes an art form.) Is this appreciation even about an “aesthetic of interference” at all, or is it actually a Baudrillard-like revelation of the undergirding of all visual culture, society at large, seeing how the sausage is made? The reminder that our reality is constructed, representations, simulations?


  • 12 May 2017 1:16 PM | Susan Viguers
    For one of my more recent books, I decided I would print the images (photo based) as four-color separation screenprints. Struggling with registration and consistent color, I printed the image pages at least two times. In the end, I liked the result, suggesting slightly wonky, early offset and clearly revealing the hand, although I still felt apologetic that it wasn’t printed perfectly and that the book was a variable edition. When it was exhibited in a recent show, I expressed that feeling to the head of Illustration at my university. His response: that that was the new “look,” that evidence of the hand was becoming a positive for illustrators.
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