Operational Images and Visual Culture: Media Archaeological Investigations (2019-2023)

Funded by The Czech Science Foundation, project no. 19-26865X

The term “operational image”, or “operative image” was coined by the Czechoslovakian-born filmmaker Harun Farocki around 2000. In his experimental documentaries, video installations, and theoretical writings Farocki focused on the politics of imagery, especially in the military-industrial context. Operational images are images that do not depict or represent, entertain or inform but rather track, navigate, activate, oversee, control, visualise, detect and identify. Operational images are instruments that perform tasks and carry out functions as part of an operation. The family of operational images includes various imaging technologies and processes that typically couple cameras or sensors with some type of image processing software: unmanned aerial vehicles, autonomous cars, industrial and home robots, medical imaging (MRI, CT or CAT scanners), industrial scanners and CCTVs, geographic information systems (digital maps and navigations), and many other examples of primarily automated visual systems that open up questions of images to encompass non-entertainment contexts of visual technologies.

This project uses the term to systematically address contemporary forms of photography and visual culture, while developing new methodological insights and thematic openings. The project is It is also tightly linked to an interdisciplinary agenda that combines research from humanities (photography, moving images, media theory), social sciences (anthropology, sociology), and the sciences (new and emerging forms of visualisation in military and environmental applications as well as artificial intelligence systems and machine learning.)

The Operational Images project conducts original research, publishes research papers and monographs, and organizes events while also networking with other similar projects and researchers internationally.

The project’s research questions are as follows:

RQ 1 How does the concept of operational image inform an interdisciplinary focus on photography and how can this be developed into a full-fledged methodological set of approaches?

RQ 2 What are the current main forms of operational images and how will they inform new research into visual culture?

RQ 3 What are the particular historical traits that inform contemporary cultures of operational images and how can this historical knowledge be mobilized in contemporary scholarship?

The sub projects address:

Environmental Humanities and Operational Images

Ubiquitous Computing and Visual Culture

Operators of Operational Images

Construction of Visual Evidence

Pattern Recognition Before Algorithms