Dominic M McIver Lopes - philosopher

"It is a mistake to think digital media as just codes
- they should be viewed as systems"

I am Dominic Mciver Lopes, professor. I teach at the British University of Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Which importance do images have in your professional field?
work on the value of images
Images are very rarely used by philosophers. There are some images used in logic, diagrams, I think you can call them images, they are very interesting. I think now people are interested in the way logic can be visualised. But otherwise images are rarely used in philosophy. However I study images, I study the interpretation of images and now I am working on the value of images. There are people in philosophy who are interested in this area.
In German we only talk about “Bilder”. English differs between two notions for pictorial information: pictures and images. Is there a real diffence?
sharp distinctions in academic settings Ordinary speakers of English don’t really make a distinction between images and pictures. But in academic settings there is a sharp distinction. Pictures have to be made either with a camera or with the hand. And images are always through some technological medium, usually digital. So satellites don’t make pictures, they make images. But most people don’t understand this difference.
Do you see a relation between image and imagination?
doubt that there are any images in the mind I think a lot of people think of imagination as a kind of imaging visualising your mind. A lot of philosophers don’t believe that. This is a case what ordinary people think about things and the way philosophers think about is quite different. Philosophers tempt to really doubt that there are any images in the mind and imagination has to do with having images in the mind.
The imaging process has become a highly divided working process. Does anybody still has the overview?
Martin Kemp's "Science of Art" - the last time the subject could be grasped I think nobody has the overview anymore. I think that everything is now so big, its beyond the capacity of one human mind to grasp. You know, 20 years ago Martin Kemp wrote the “Science of Art”, a book about the relationship between science and imaging. That was the last time anybody could understand that subject in this subject. And it is a big subject. But it is only a part of the whole story. I think there is anybody out there, who understands, who knows about every step of the imaging process.
Is there a possibility to relate those different views of images or do they keep fragments?
big division between images workers and the image thinkers I think there is a possibility for people of different academic disciplines to talk to each other. That is happening as here on the conference. But I think it is very unlikely that academics who use pictures and scientists who create pictures with imaging technologies are ever gone to have much of a dialogue with people who are using photoshop or a database in newspapers or people who do digital film editing – people who are image workers. I think there is a big division between images workers and the image thinkers.
Taking an example from the it sector. All numerical information, like text, video or images, is designated as “content”. How do you consider this medial equalization?
it is a mistake to think digital media as just codes - they should be viewed as systems I think it is a mistake. It is true that all of these data formats are embodied in the same code. But it is a mistake to think digital media as just codes. I think they should be viewed as systems. They have input devices, coding mechanisms, memory mechanisms and display mechanisms. And you can’t see that the image is just the jpeg code format. It is also the screen where it is displayed and the way it is used. I think all of that has to be understood. This is part of why it is so difficult now to have a complete picture of the imaging media, because you have to take to your account interfaces as well as coding. And so it enormously complicates.
Do web based images still have a place?
Yeah, they have a place, they should have a place. They are virtual, there are good things about that. I have to make slides for illustrations and it was very difficult. Now I go to an archive where thousands of thousands of images I can find there and I just download and use them.
Do they have a physical place?
They are on my harddrive and I display them.
Do they oscillate between the different places?
around with me They move around with me. I carry them, I brought some here.
What is your subjective impression of digital images?
arts become interesting violating the rules Most of the images I use are actually scanned. Physically so they are not as good as before. And there is art that is made digitally. But I think it is still a very young art form. I don’t think that it is fully appreciated in its potential. It often disappoints me, because I expected a little bit more. Now I know it’s coming.
A lot of digital art is still using the tools of digital image making the way they are designed to. What’s becoming really interesting when arts starts more to use the tools not the way they are designed to. When they violate the rules it has become more interesting. But it is coming.
The pixels, the “picture elements” of digital images, are mathematical coordinates with a colour value. What is the scale of pixel based images?
displayed files have various scales That is a very interesting question. I go back to my point of systems. If you look at the code you have no scale, but if you consider digital images as files displayed in some format, they have various scales. That is quite like traditional image making. If you have giant screen movie, a television set showing video or a painting, like a fresco, the scales become a very part of it.
Does exist an imagination in mathematics?
deep connection between visualising and mathematics There is definitely a mathematical imagination. I believe from what I know what mathematicians have told me that the is very often a kind of visualising. Mathematicians have a sense that there is a space and there is already mathematical objects around. They explore the space and see the connections between mathematical objects. I am sure there is a deep connection between visualising and mathematics.
Kant introduced the notion of the mathematical sublime. The Alhambra but also the music of Bach is based on mathematical schemes. Is this architecture and this music sublime? How do you feel the mathematics in this artworks?
sublimity because of mathematics underneath the surface It is sublime because of mathematics. But I don’t think that your perception of the sublimity consists in a perception. I think the mathematics is there underneath the surface. It is part of the sublimity but you don’t know where it is coming from. But it has the structure and you can’t see where it is coming from.
So the mathematical sublime is transformed into the dynamic sublime?
I agree.
Do you see the immaterial base of digital images?
you only see what binary strings cause No I guess you don’t. I don’t think you see the binary strings. You only see what they cause.
Does your trust in images has changed?
digital images: we trust their makers I think there is a different base for trust. You can trust photographs because they are mechanical. But I think you can trust digital images because of their witness, because we trust their makers. You sometimes do trust people…
How do you consider the relation between image and text with regards to code based images?
engaging our perceptual systems in a way that text doesn’t First I don’t think that digital images are text based. Either they are in files that be written down, but it doesn’t make them text. Text is more: text is language, language is a sort of conventions and practice and traditions.
The meaning of digital images is this numerical values or how you want to describe it partly. They are larger than that. They are engaging our perceptual systems in a way that text doesn’t.

I still think that when we have particular words combined with a digitized photograph for instance, you have multimedia, you have a hyper of text and image coming together in one place.
Do you see iconoclastic tendencies in multimedia?
looking at the history of art, there always has been multimedia I think art is linked to think that. But I think there is multimedia run for a long time. This idea that each art form is pure is a very new one, no more than 150 – 200 years old. Before artists have never cared if they were working with that medium or that medium. Also this were multimedia. Than came theorists influenced by Kant for instance all the way through Clement Greenberg who said “no, no we must purify our media”. But that was posing on the artist conception. Some of the artist went along with that. But even if they did, I think that was a brief moment. If you look at the history of art, there always has been multimedia. Look at the Byzantine mosaics, the text right there, there is nothing pure.
Nelson Goodman proposed in a certain way a model of d/a changer, a digital to analogue changer. He compared this process taking an example from music. The score is the digital notation and the presentation of the music peace is its analogue counterpart. Compared with the few articulated dots on the score the music peace has an infinite density. Where does come this density from?
the score isn’t the music The score isn’t the music. The score is instructions for performing the music. But the score doesn’t determine every element of the performed music. It only determines the sequence of notes that are played, the rhythmical structure and that’s about it. Everything else is up to the performer. And everything else is analogue. Tempo is analogue, timbre is analogue. …
Did you have seen new images in science in the last 10 years?
Oh, yeah, it is amazing. There are people in my university, who came to talk to me. They are scientist, they are inventing imaging technologies. It always amazes me how sophisticated and beautiful the thing they do are. They are not just gathering new kinds of data, they really care the way images look, they are aesthetically informed.
How do you see the relation between image and data in science. Images stored as data get closer to the data of the classical scientific measurements. How is the relationship between taking pictures and measuring?
all images are data I think data and information are the same thing. And images are one form of conveying information, of conveying data. I think all images do that, not only digital but also handpainted images.
Did you have seen new images in the arts in the last 10 years?
traditional painters make new kind of images too Yeah I have. The newest work is done by them who work with digital images. Because it is a whole new way. So there are images they look very different, images you haven’t seen before. But also traditional painters make new kind of images.
Does not only the production but also the perception has to change?
we care about the formatics Yeah, I think that’s true. Our perceptions are always changing. Those changes are driven by lots of different factors. One of them is the medium. When we are interesting in a picture, for what the picture has to offer us, we care about the formatics, that often means caring about the way it was made. We are trained see images, art images for medium they are made. You see the making, the traces of the hand. I don’t think they are in digital images too. It is not that direct hand. It is the hand manipulating the machine.
Isn’t there a difference if the spirit programs the machine or the intuitive gesture? Or the spirit has his intuitive gesture?
hand includes spirit The hand includes spirit.
If images become abstract, they have a lot of in common with music. How do you see the relationship between image and music?
one of the great puzzles of the last 100 years I don’t understand them as a philosopher – I love abstract art and I love music – I don’t have a full philosophical understanding of them. For me it is one of the great puzzles of the last 100 years. Abstract painting made us realize that there is a phenomenon art to care about even if it is about nothing. It is a puzzle…
interview from 27 september 2003 at Magdeburg during the congress "Bildwissenschaft - zwischen Reflektion und Anwendung"
Links for Dominic M McIver Lopes:
Dominic Lopes's Home Page

American Society for Aesthetics Aesthetics on-line