In her article in “Defense of the Poor Image” Hito Steyerl says that the low-resolution image is regarded low in the hierarchy of images. The poor image mocks the very promise of digital technological revolution but at the same time only digital technology can make this (so called) degradation possible. However the poor image transforms quality into accessibility, exhibition value and cult value.
On the other hand rich image can be a tool of control of the establishment and capitalistic control. Without low resolution reproduction it would be impossible for the experimental and artistic expression to find an audience, it stands the risk of being invisible. And it has revolutionized accessibility of original masterpieces manifold. The poor image has actually filled the void left by the lack of accessibility of the rich image.
The low-res image may lose content but gains speed of circulation. This easy circulation creates a global network of sharing as it travels, creating newer audiences. She calls them visual bonds.
What Hito refers to as the ‘economy of the poor image’, is its properties of remixing and appropriation, also the possibility of participative production, where a number of producers take part in creating and recreating an image.
An example of digitally manipulated image can be found in this photo series by London-based Japanese photographer Chino Otsuka. Otsuka took old photos from her childhood and adolescence and put pictures of her present self in them, creating interesting double self-portraits. I found it such a creative use of digital technology that it gives an eerie feeling to the viewer.
“The digital process becomes a tool, almost like a time machine, as I’m embarking on the journey to where I once belonged and at the same time becoming a tourist in my own history,”- Otsuka.
Hito says this empowers the users to take active participation in the creation and distribution of content. Users become creators, editors, critics, translators and co-authors of poor images.
Hito’s argument in defense of poor image reminds me of the criticism pop-art and even pop music received when it emerged as a new art form and faced similar resistance from advocates of classics.