The Processed Picture: Imaging in the Age of Photoshop


Till A. Heilmann (University of Bonn)


Digital images are culturally pervasive, from the sciences to the business and entertainment world to the arts and beyond. In most cases, the pictures shown in scientific reports, in advertising, on private and commercial websites, in magazines etc. have been algorithmically altered with dedicated processing and editing software to enhance their look: They are processed pictures. Remarkably, to date there is no systematic reflection of digital image processing in the humanities or the social sciences and no elaborate conceptualization of the digital image as a processed picture.

The project’s objective is to develop a concept of digital images in their distinct quality of being processed pictures instead of in general terms or abstract notions of digitality. To this end, it will give a first comprehensive account of the software Adobe Photoshop as the premier technological tool of digital image processing and establish a theoretical framework for reflecting digital image processing in its significance for visual culture and for theories of digital media.

To achieve this goal, the project will conduct an in-depth investigation of Photoshop at the ‘cultural’ layer of interfaces and uses and at the ‘computer’ layer of code and data structures. Using the novel methods of software studies such as comparative media technique analysis, interface critique and critical code studies, it will provide the first systematic examination of one the most relevant instruments of contemporary visual culture. To elucidate the pragmatic and historical dimension of digital image processing, the project will also apply methods of discourse and media analysis, media archaeology and oral history.