Photography student, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp
1991 saw the creation of an image bank that could be accessed by all.
Hundreds of millions of images are uploaded to this collection of pictures every year. It is also a highly accessible archive – you don’t have to move an inch outside your house to look for pictures. The archive is not contained in a building which you need special permission to enter. There are no doors decorated with challenging ‘staff only’ signs. You don’t have to lift any heavy boxes and you don’t have to wear white gloves.
Of course I am talking about the World Wide Web, also known as the internet.
It has never been easier for people to get their hands on pictures and photographs. Of course many artists have realized this as well. Nowadays we see artists of various ages referencing the internet for their work. Sometimes they even use open-source material. Michael Wolf, a German photographer, is one such artist. In an interview with The Guardian he says the following about working with Google Street View: ‘In the beginning what I found amazing was that if one looked enough, one could find almost anything. So many situations – accidents, heart attacks, bicycle crashes, dogs crapping, people giving you the finger – it was just an incredible cross-section of events’. 1 The thought of seeing the whole world from an interactive screen at home is stimulating, to say the least. Belgian-born Mishka Henner is another example of an artist who has devoted his artistic practice to exploring the creative potential of the internet by using Google Earth.
Ever since the beginning of the 20th century, photographers have been using found footage and archives as sources of inspiration for their work. With the birth of mass media and the spread of Dadaism and surrealism, artists began to question and challenge the culture in which standardized photographs had started to influence our daily lives to a greater extent than ever before. With the introduction of the internet, however, it became possible to take the democratization and the availability of images to a new level. Artists born in the 1990s, like myself, have grown up in an era defined by the digitization and overabundance of images. How do we deal with the endless numbers of images and what can we see in them? How can we handle this material without being gimmicky? As artists, we can only continue asking questions about the world that surrounds us – but what kind of answers will we come up with?
Today the great majority of all images printed in newspapers, advertisements, books and magazines are digital, in contrast to traditional archives. Then there is of course the digitization of museum archives, but the question about the digital image remains. If we simplify it, these pictures exist as masses of electronic information, also known as pixels. The German photographer Thomas Ruff explores the use of pixels and introduced ‘the aesthetic of the pixel’ into photographic art. Ruff enlarges low-resolution images, mostly ones that he came across online, to a colossal scale in order to emphasize the pattern of the pixels. The end result is a geometric parade of colour that questions the landscape, beauty and the human impact on our surroundings. Thinking about the tremendous amounts of low-resolution photographs to be found on the internet, Ruff uses what one also could call a ‘poor man’s image archive’ to create something monumental.
How to deal with ‘The Museum of Internet’ is still a question which artists all over the world are busy examining. Internet and the digitization of images have democratized our access to images forever. In many ways this drastically changes the idea of what makes an image and what makes an image valuable.