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Black Magic to Black Box

Jul 06, 2018



Kevin Hooper
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  • 8/17/2019 Black Magic to Black Box


    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    Black Magic to Black Box

    With the advent of digital photography do Flusser’s terms, such as

    ‘Apparatus’ and ‘Functionary’ need to be revised


    "ilum Flusser #as kno#n for his philosophies on the #ay in #hich the mediums of

    the media #ere changing and its effects on our societies and cultures$ %n ‘&o#ards a

    !hilosophy of !hotography’ Flusser explains that the technical image is the next

    most important development in human history since the invention of linear #riting$

    &hrough out his book, Flusser uses esoteric terms such as apparatus, functionary

    and program to relate to our society and culture and the roles played by us, and the

    ob'ects and systems #e employ and the performances #e delegate to these ob'ects

    and processes, particularly in this case #ith relevance to#ards the realms of


    &o elaborate on the purpose of this essay, % aim to determine the follo#ing( has the

    advent of digital photography changed the po#er relationship bet#een a

     photographer and their chosen e)uipment and have advances in photographic

    technologies and practices altered the #ay in #hich Flussers terms outlined in

    ‘&o#ards a !hilosophy of !hotography’ apply to modern photography

    *efining Flusser’s &erms

    &hroughout his book Flusser uses many terms to explain his theories and

     philosophies, so ho# does Flusser define his terms &o make these terms all

    encompassing in the context of their meaning Flusser has had to reduce the

    elements of #hat he #anted to say to the base essence of its meaning, to its

    ‘simplified, embryonic form’$+ 

    1 Vilum Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (Reaktion Books 2000, p21

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations 2

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box


    Apparatus is one of the more complex terms Flusser uses, and has referred to the

    language of atin from #hich the ma'ority of -uropean languages are derived$ &he

    #ord ‘apparatus’ has its roots from the atin #ord ‘apparare’ meaning ‘to prepare’$

    Flusser is using the definition of ‘apparatus’ as an ob'ect that simulates thought or

    something that is in a state of preparedness for its purpose or function, such as the

    camera or a computer $. 


    &he term ‘functionary’ has been used )uite simply compared to ‘apparatus’ in that it

    has been used in a more self/explanatory fashion$ &he term ‘functionary’ has been

    defined as someone #ho uses the apparatus and allo#s the apparatus to perform its

    function or acts as a function of an apparatus$0


    Flusser’s term of program is mostly used in context #ith reference to#ards the

    specific coding that defines the apparatuses parameters of its usability$1 For

    example, to take a photograph of a fast moving sub'ect #ith the intention of

    eliminating the impression of motion a camera may need to use a shutter speed of

    +23444 of a second, ho#ever if the camera has a maximum shutter speed of+21444 of a

    second the shot #ill not be possible as the ability to do so is beyond the parameters

    of the cameras programing$

    2 Flusser, Towards a Philosophy, p21# Flusser, Towards a Philosophy, p' Flusser, Towards a Philosophy, p&'

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations #

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    &he Apparatus

    &hroughout his rhetoric Flusser is attempting to inform the reader of the changes in

    the po#er relationship bet#een ne# technologies and their human handlers$ 5e also

    highlights the fact that this is not a recent occurrence but started #ith the industrial

    revolution$ Flusser states that ‘!reviously the tool #as the variable and the human

     being the constant( subse)uently the human being #as the variable and the machine

    the constant$’6 &his statement means that prior to the revolution the #orkers’ tools

    #ould change to suit the #orker’s task but the task #ould remain the same therefore

    so #ould the #orker, but post revolution the machine #ould outlast its operators or

    they #ould have to learn ne# skills to allo# the machine to function$ %s this still

    true And is the same true for the camera as for the machine

    %f the use of a camera is used in the same context, then #ith the technology that #as

    available in the fe# years before publication, the camera had to be the constant as

    once the camera apparatus #as in its final manufactured state, its parameters #ere

    set by its ‘program’, it could not perform more then it #as built to do$ &he operatoror functionary #ould have to learn as much as they could #ith regards to their

    apparatus and push its limits and their o#n techni)ue to obtain )uality images$

    %n the advent of digital imaging and soft#are over mechanical mechanisms,

    soft#are can be updated via firm#are updates from the manufacturer, the

    apparatuses program can be expanded and its parameters broadened, the program of 

    the apparatus is no longer a constant$ Another factor of the modern camera is the

    automatic and semi/automatic control options such as program mode, aperture or

    shutter priority, that allo# the apparatus to regulate its o#n program and present the

     best options to the functionary$ Also #ith the introduction of anti/shake or image

    stabilisation technologies being utilised into the body or lenses of digital camera

    systems is this another step to#ards this apparatus becoming a form of artificial

    intelligence as Flusser also suggests$

    Flusser, Towards a Philosophy, p2'

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    7o is the camera a tool8, or a machine9 %s it possible for an apparatus to be both

    :ameras are employed in situations for gathering evidence of crime scenes or to

     provide documentation of art#orks amongst other things, both are arenas #here

    artistic license and creativity are largely irrelevant$ ;nder these circumstances the

    camera could be considered a tool$ 5o#ever Flusser also begs the )uestion( ‘%s the

    camera then a machine because it appears to simulate the eye and in the process

    reaches back to a theory of optics A ‘seeing machine’3 

    %s the camera then a seeing machine &his then leads to the )uestion of ‘#hat #ould

     be the definition of ‘seeing’ %f this #ere to be interpreted as the relaying of visual

    stimuli #ould a telescope be a better example

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    When Mcuhan’s thinking on current media mediums is applied to Flusser’s theory

    of functionary, apparatus and technical image regarding the limiting factors of

    media, he states that ‘&he restraints are al#ays directed to the ?content@, #hich is

    al#ays another medium$’+4 Mcuhan’s reasoning suggests the parameters of the

    apparatuses program are superfluous$ %f the medium of photography is the technical

    image, then the images ‘content’ could be represented by the medium of Flusser’s

    term of ‘imagination’, #hich then becomes the restraining factor$

    &echni)ues such as high dynamic range or 5* can be used to boost the dynamic

    range of the apparatuses sensor to create a series of images that lie #ithin the

     parameters of an apparatuses program and then be amalgamated to create a final

    image that is outside of these parameters$ More recent camera models such as the

    :anon 6* mk%%% have started to include such techni)ues into their apparatuses

     program but this is achieved by the same methods used in soft#are externally to the

    camera’s program$

    %n relevance to this Flusser talks about the camera as the apparatus and its ability to

    ‘spit out photographs’++ and the resulting images, but not the photographic process

    as a #hole, unless he is specifically referring to !olaroid cameras spitting out

     photographs$ &he phrase ‘spit out photographs’+. is referring to the camera’s

     production of photographs$ 5o#ever, Flusser #ould seem to have missed out on a

    vital aspect in the production of photographs( the darkroom and its digitised

    e)uivalents such as :apture 22beforebefore$net234f2s++2media2mcluhan$pdf  p009

    11 Flusser, Towards a Philosophy, p27

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations )

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    &he methods of creating an individual image negative or digital file may or may not

     be restricted by the parameters of the apparatuses program but it is certainly not the

    case #hen the final image is being amended in post processing, as #ith the 5*

    techni)ue, images can be combined to create images outside of the apparatuses

     program, this applies to film based and digitised photography$

    o examples of this are Cerry ;elsmann and Michal DarcE$ ;elsmann created

    montages in the pre/digital era from multiple negatives to produce surrealist

    images, #hich #ere mostly untitled such as ‘untitled +=98’+. and ‘untitled +==4’+0 

    #hile DarcE+1 is a completely digital artist and creates his #orks using Adobe

    !hotoshop$ &hese examples further Mcuhan’ thoughts that allude to the

    imagination being the limiting factor of a photographic image and not the program

    of the apparatus as Flusser suggests$

    Further on, Flusser adds to his theory on the relationship bet#een the apparatus and

    the functionary stating that the camera is such a complex apparatus that those #ho

    use it #ill never truly understand #hat it is capable of due to this complexity, that

    its parent program gives #ay to multi/layered sub programs that re)uire the

     photographer to act as a player and a functionary$+6 &his thought or definition of the

    term apparatus could easily reflect digital cameras #ith all their added peripheral

     programs that are not related to the parent function of the apparatus, such as live

    vie#, colour space options, 5*, bracketing, etc$ All these programs can be added

    to or expanded to an extent via firm#are updates, this causes the program

     parameters to aggrandise$ Modern cameras can dictate that the functionary acts as

    an enabler in that the camera in an automatic mode and 'ust needs its shutter fired

    or can be a complex game #here the apparatus can be manipulated to achieve a

    desired output$

    12  ttp-..///uelsmannnet.1#  ttp-..///sol/agallercom.3err4uelsmann4exi5itiontml

    1'  ttp-..///'.!ream7come7true7Man7trans8orms7stunning78antas7/orl6s7con3ures7sleep7realit7computertml1 Flusser, Towards a Philosophy  p#1

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations *

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    &he Functionary

    %n Flusser’s #ritings there is no mention of differing levels of functionaries due to

    competence #ith photographic apparatus$ Although he does exclude repetitive

     photographs that contain so ne# information so could be taken to mean the

    exclusion of casual snappers such as holiday/makers and novice users #ho are not

     producing anything different or creative,+8 it can only be assumed that the term of

    functionary applies to all camera users$

    Flusser claims that it is appropriate to refer to photographers as functionaries as

    they have a kind of symbiotic relationship #ith their apparatus in that the

     photographer is neither the variable nor the constant+9 Flusser also defines an aspect

    of the apparatus and functionary relationship as the manipulation of the input and

    output of the apparatus by the functionary in that the operator can manipulate the

    input to achieve the desired output #ithout kno#ledge of ho# the apparatus

    transfers or uses the input information to achieve the output information$ &his could

     be suggesting t#o things>

    +$ &hat being a functionary is a matter related to epistemology and that if the

    operator has kno#ledge of the camera’s inner #orking they cease to

     become a functionary, if this is #hat is being suggested, #hat #ould a

    functionary then become An Apparatus adept A Functionary



    .$ Flusser could also be suggesting that because the operator can possess no

    control over the transformation of input to output but is able to still create

    the desired ob'ective #ithin the parameters of the apparatus program it is

    irrelevant to be a functionary or that the parameters are irrelevant$ iEek

    once claimed that ‘#e ‘feel free’ because #e lack the very language to

    articulate our unfreedom$’GsicH+3 % use this statement in the sense that #ith

    1) Flusser, Towards a Philosophy , p2)

    1* Flusser,Towards a Philosophy,

    p2*1& 7lavo' iEek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real , http>22rebels/library$org2files2EiEekI#elcome$pdf   p.

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations &

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    the advent of digital cameras the parameters of the apparatuses game have

     become so vast or accepted that #e no longer feel confined by them so no

    longer feel restricted in our photographic endeavours$

    5o#ever, Flusser claims that the apparatuses program is designed to be greater then

    the ability of the photographer to master it, other#ise the game #ould be over too

    soon$ &he program needs to be bigger then a photographers ability so as to

    encourage them to play and explore its possibilities$+= Flusser also goes on to claim


    ‘Jo photographer, not even the totality of all photographers, can entirely get to the

     bottom of #hat a correctly programmed camera is up to$ %t is a black box,.4

     K no onecan o#n apparatus in the sense that human beings program apparatuses for their

    o#n private purposes$ K &he )uestion of o#nership of the apparatus is therefore

    irrelevant( the real issue here is #ho develops its program$’ .+

    &here are t#o photographic artists that have abandoned convention #ith regards to

    the functionary status to their apparatus$ &he first being, Miroslav &ichy, #ho came

    to photography from a background in fine art$ 5e never bought a commercial

    camera product but instead created his o#n camera like apparatus as this #as his

    hobby$ As a result, #hen out taking photographs sub'ects entertained his antics

     because they did not believe that he #as really taking pictures of them$ &he only

     program that #as out of &ichys control #as that of the film being used$ &ichy

    constructed the mechanisms employed to function the camera, he even ground his

    o#n lenses so there #as no lack of competence or understanding bet#een &ichy and

    his apparatus construct$..

    &he second being after Flusser’s time and of the digital age is Adam Magyer, a

    5ungarian born photographer and a technology enthusiast #ho like &ichy, moved

    1+ Flusser, Towards a Philosophy , p2*20 Flusser, Towards a Philosophy , p2*21 Flusser, Towards a Philosophy , p2+22 Mess9ess, :e Reclusive "eeping :om "otograper an6 is $ar65oar6

    $amera )


     ;une 201# (ttp-..///messnessciccom.201#.0).0).te7reclusive7peeping7tom7potograper7an67is7car65oar67camera.

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    a#ay from convention and constructed his o#n apparatus but in this case there #as

    a great deal of programming in the form of soft#are coded by Magyer, himself$ 5e

    claims that he spent six years teaching himself t#o coding languages to be able to

     program his apparatus to achieve his goals$.0$

    Flusser claims that ‘!o#er has moved from the o#ner of ob'ects to the programmer 

    and the operator$’.1 7o in line #ith Flussers o#n reasoning, Magyer o#ned his

    apparatus in the truest sense$ ;nlike &ichy, Magyer used some prefabricated parts

    of e)uipment in the construction such as the lens and sensor but the final result #as

    uni)ue in that the program for his apparatus #as entirely coded by the functionary$

    Magyer’s provocation to build his o#n apparatus came #hen the offerings of

    modern consumer brands could not offer #hat he needed to realise his ideas and the

    apparatus that could, #as of an industrial nature and extremely expensive$ ater in

    his career Magyar invested in e)uipment but continued to program his o#n


    2# Coshua 5ammer in Matter, Einstein’s Camera: How One Photographer is Hacking the Concept of

    Time, 2https>22medium$com2matter233aa3a+363=32 G9th March .4+1H

    2' Flusser, :o/ar6s a "ilosop, p#0

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations 10

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    %n conclusion, % found it extremely difficult to argue against the terms of Flusser$

    5o#ever % had attempted to follo# Flusser’s example by raising some ob'ective points for and against by #ay of )uestions, hoping this #ould provoke thoughts on

    the sub'ect #hen supporting evidence #as lacking$ &he point regarding the term

    ‘apparatus’ that did arise again and again #as that of the relationship bet#een the

    apparatus and functionary and the po#er dynamic of the t#o$ Also that a large part

    of the photographic process in the #ay of the darkroom had been omitted, % mention

    the darkroom over its digital incarnation as it #as relevant at the time of #riting$

    % #ould find it hard to believe that Flusser had not considered this aspect of the

     process$ :ould this be a case of Flusser not being a practicing photographer caused

    him to overlook this, or that it #as considered and deemed superfluous$ % #ould

    consider the darkroom and its digital e)uivalent the other half of the photographic

     'ourney$ %t is my opinion that Flusser’s term of apparatus remains unchanged in the

    advent of digital photography$

    5o#ever, % do feel there may come a time #hen the line of the apparatus,

    functionary relationship blurs to the point of being unsure #hich #e are, #hether

    this #ill be of a cyborgian nature or due to apparatus #ith a higher level of

    automation$ % think the role of a functionary is easier to argue, or more specifically

    the relevance of being a functionary$ %’m more inclined to agree that the program of 

    modern cameras is more then enough to meet the needs of most photographers and

    that the imagination is a bigger limiting factor on #hat can be accomplished #ith

    modern photographic e)uipment and soft#are$

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations 11

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box


    :arl 7ol#ay Lallery,


     ;ntitled +==4

    Flusser, "ilum , Towards a Philosophy of Photography eaktion Books


    5ammer, Coshua, in Matter, Einstein’s Camera: How One Photographer is

     Hacking the Concept of Time, https>22medium$com2matter233aa3a+363=3

    5ebnarova, Cena, http>22###$tichyfotograf$cE2en2miroslavtichy/home$html

    Mcuhan, Marshall Understanding Media, The Etensions of Man


    MessyJessy, The !ecl"si#e Peeping Tom Photographer and his Card$oard




    ;elsmann, Cerry, http>22###$uelsmann$net2O

    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations 12

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    Kevin Hooper – Black Magic to Black Box

    ;ntitled +=98

    Williams, Amanda and Michel DarcE, Mail Online,




    ielinski, 7iegfried, and "ilum Flusser P others, Philosophy of Photography

    #ol%& 'o%& ()ntellect *o"rnals &+-, pp./&+.

    iEek, 7lavo', 0elcome to the 1esert of the !eal, http>22rebels/


    F!" 20# – $ritical %nvestigations 1#