Vilém Flusser – The Technical Image

In his text, Flusser makes a distinction between traditonal images and technical images. Traditional images are first-degree abstractions, abstracted from the concrete world. Technical images are third-degree abstractions, since they are abstracted from texts that are abstracted from the concrete world. Rather than phenomena (traditional images), technical images refer to concepts.


Flusser critiques the seemingly ‘objective’ character of technological images. The technological image seems to be a nature-like representation of the concrete world. However, just like the traditional image, we are dealing with the perspective of the maker of the image. Flusser states that a ‘new type of imagination’ is needed to interpret the technical image. An interesting argument is that with the technological image, we are involved in an ‘abstract sort of witchcraft’, which tries to change our concepts of the world out there.


Interesting metaphor of the functioning of the technical image is Flussers’ comparison with dams. The technical image was firstly introduced as a means to reintroduce traditional images in society. On the contrary, the technological image absorbes all other images and texts, everything becomes eternally reproducible.




Two weeks ago I attended the workshop Abstract Images in Art and Science. Rob van Gerwens lecture about Photographs as Abstract Images could be relevant in this context. He stated that certain photographs are abstract images, or in other words, have pictorial qualities carrying a meaning that is not in the pictures itself, but derived from something else, outside the picture. Distinctions beteween the photograph and pictorial images are blurring. The photographs get a certain iconic quality, caused by a neutralizing moral space, where direct viewing is removed. For example, van Gerwen refers to this picture by Nick Ut, who won the Pulitzer prize in 1972:




When thinking with Flusser, how can we relate this example to his statement that ‘Technical images thus suck all of history in their surfaces, and they come to constitute an eternally rotating memory of society”? How can we talk about the technical image as an abstraction, comparing Flussers’ ideas with the example of Van Gerwen?


~ by fabree on March 1, 2009.

3 Responses to “Vilém Flusser – The Technical Image”

  1. I think there is a difference between Flusser’s technical image and Van Gerwen’s abstract image. Flusser seems to state that the technical image is disguised as an objective image but is not, instead it is tricking us because it is not related to the real but to other images and texts as it absorbs them.
    Van Gerwen’s explanation as I read it, seems to mean that the abstract images incorporate both the objective (indexical) and the iconic, as he says that the boundaries get blurred.

  2. Flusser stresses the failure of technical images to “introduce traditional images into daily life”, meaning a failure in making art, science and politics accessible by transmitting their meaning into a generally known code. The issue of reproduction is recurrent here, which I believe Flusser interestingly brings forward – the idea of traditional images being turned into technical ones. Reproduction is given a negative connotation here, even as history has proven that nay kind of traditional image inevitably ends up on television, in movies, or on photographic paper. This process implies constant repetition of societal memory. I believe he holds a position against technological determinism, since he sees technology leading to a massification of society and civilization as a whole. I would say that such a critical attitude towards technology is not entirely justified, since today’s digital media (seen as technical images) are very much indebted to “traditional” forms of media. The value of books, newspapers and other similar old media is still acknowledged today, as they all represent fundamental forms of culture that new media have not made obsolete. Technology and digitalization have led to mass culture, but what lies at the very basis of this ongoing process is not yet forgotten, nor is it underestimated.

  3. But if he sees technology (as applied to make technical images) as capable of massificating society, then there is quite a technological determinism in his thoughts. He claims that “we” are not aware of the black box that is technology and that that tricks us in believing to see reality in technical images (by which he simply means pictures, moving or fixed). Apart from the trickyness, he also observes the fact that through the increased exhibitional value by way of reproduction (Benjamin), we are constantly looking at traditional images that are somehow not “natural” (as opposed to technological) and thus are bound to influence social/cultural habits and the way we think about images. Consider canonformation: the Nick Ut picture stands for the horrors of American imperialism and has crawled up our consciousness (everyone knows this) exactly because it is a reproducable technical image. (I am not saying that that is bad, but I see Flusser’s point in that it somehow arrests flux. In western music, the ability to write down music in scores has profoundly influenced the way “works of art” have become fixed, somehow arresting the flux posible in oral transmission/improvisation.)

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