The disappearance of the image

Enrico Tomaselli
A glance on cont/arts
4 min readMay 3, 2014


This is at least by the second half of the twentieth century we talk, not without reason, of society of the image. As the tools for capturing and playing back images — photography, film, television — were mostly previous, is above all since the 50s of the last century that the image (still or moving) is imposed in the imagination collective as a characteristic element of an era.To determine this shot, as unfortunately often happens, in all probability have been wars occurs along the first half of the century: World War I, and especially the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The last two, in fact, not only were heavily documented by photographers and cameramen, but also marked the transition to a more conscious use of the tools of capture. To some extent, that’s where the documentary was born.

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century is marked by the presence of the image. The advent of television as a medium of mass entertainment and information, the rapid growth of the film industry, the widespread use of the press — with the birth of magazines, mostly just based on photographic images — make it a constituent of the popular culture (and of high too), to the point of giving birth to that expression that stands as the identity element of society.
The increasing success of this presence, it says authoritatively. The image is synonymous with truth, irrefutable. As was evident even then, at least the wiser that the images could be manipulated (or used to manipulate), this aura of incontrovertibility was very strong, and itself was — at a time — fruit and contributory cause of pervasiveness of the image. Even in the cliché “the television said” is possible trace the authority of images.

The transition to the new millennium, however, marks a new season.
On the one hand, the overflow of information produces, of course, an effect of perception saturation: too much information (even visual) exceed the capacity of subjective processing, and even storage. There is no longer enough time to fix the memory of a specific piece of information, because they take over before the others, and the flow is continuous.
On the other hand, there is growing awareness that the image is not — by itself , and incontrovertibly — mirror of truth. The growth, and especially the revelation of cases of manipulation, doubt creeps, damages trust monolithic image as a certainty.
Obviously, this in itself would be a positive step, as it implies a different awareness, greater and more mature reading skills.
But at this critical growth, by the users, there are also other elements that change completely the scenario.
While the image produced technically definitely rises to the rank of art (photography, video art), it gradually loses its role as a visual documentation of reality.

The subject of visual documentation ceases to be the world around us — the places, the facts.
Photojournalism has virtually disappeared. In newspapers are now almost exclusively photos of people (or rather, of the characters), most of the time for mere press photos of repertoire. The faces have taken the place of facts.
In the news, in the face of a multiplied technical possibility of coverage of the facts, they are still the faces to lord. The majority of stories are read in from a video journalist conductor, but also almost all the external services are characterized by the same stylistic feature: a journalist on the place of the event, framed by the camera, that tell about. At most, an interview with a witness to the fact, the relative of the victim, the character ( if the news relates to the policy or the show). Again, extensive use of archive footage.
The documentary has disappeared from the generalist television programming, relegated to specialized channels, and almost exclusively focused on aseptic themes: nature, science and history.
The image, as a tool for documentation of contemporary reality, it is simply outcomed from the optical horizon.

An extreme reflection of this trend can be traced even in the practical effects of mass diffusion of technological tools for image capture. Digital cameras and camcorders first, then smartphones, they put pretty much anyone can capture visual fragments of reality. Millions, billions of potential photojournalist, constantly traveling around the planet. Not surprisingly, when this phenomenon began to take dimensions of mass, the same was born the idea of journalism from the bottom; YouReporter the model seemed to be the new frontier. The outcome was instead completely different, if not opposite. The rampant trend of selfie constitutes the most representative epiphenomenon. The image has been reduced to mirror of individual.

But, to address the issue with the logic of the market, how much in all of this is due to the demand, and how much to supply?
It is the public’s attention, which has moved away from the overpersonal sphere, to take refuge in the niche of the self, and then shrinking demand has redirected the offer?
Or is it this that, for countless reasons, gave up the image as a means of documentation of reality, thereby producing asphyxia in demand?
Of course, if you do not buy more newspapers and television services, photo/video journalism inevitably will fall drastically production. And of course, as I said the images are manipulated and can be used to manipulate.
But at least a fragment of objective truth, is present in each image. And if we allow that to tell the world is only the words (who, inevitably, affected by the subjectivity, and are the main instrument for the distortion of reality), we give up something fundamental.
If tomorrow, to see documented reality, we will have no choice but to go to a museum of contemporary art, perhaps we should pause to reflect. Together with the image that has been lost even the society?



Enrico Tomaselli
A glance on cont/arts

Graphic + web designer / Magmart Festival Art Director / Management culturale