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The University of Southampton
Critical Practices Research Group

Image Studies

Following the growth in visual studies in recent decades, there has been an appetite to consider a wider set of image domains. The Critical Practices Research Group offers particular expertise in the debates and development of image studies. In order not to institutionalise the distance between image-making and image analysis it is important the making of images ought to be practised in the same seminar rooms where historical and interpretative work takes place. While a seemingly straightforward idea, it is still often the case that a gulf remains between making and thinking about images.

 Sunil Manghani’s Image Studies (Routledge, 2013) is one key volume in presenting image studies as a combined endeavor. In defining ‘Image Studies’ we can ask the deceptively simple question: ‘What is an image?’ – which we soon acknowledge is no simple matter. If anything, the image does not exist in any singular sense, but is always a plural term. It is perhaps not surprising one of the central concerns of writers has been to categorize images into different groupings that attempt to account for the full range of visual and non-visual images. Images Studies helps establish an interdisciplinary approach, which looks across a range of domains and disciplines.

 Science Imaging, for example, has been of particular interest (growing out of the development of science studies). In many cases scientific images are visualizations of data, which can be the end result of an experiment or technical process, or used to communicate information. Equally, however, they are often part of a more extensive unfolding process. Regardless of their purpose and provenance, scientific images can be very striking, yet in many cases will be discarded once they have been used. We can consider, for example whether the nature of scientific knowledge is essentially imagistic and pictorial or abstract and logical. Science images do not simply present data in visual form for convenience or pleasure. In fact, images can be considered not only to represent but also to constitute scientific knowledge, which in turn can be translated back into data. The making of science images is also the making of scientific knowledge.

 In combination with understanding the significance and place of images across a variety of historical, cultural, political and economic contexts, an equally vital aspect to understanding the image is the practical matter of making and manipulating them. Different processes, materials and forms define different image-types, while cultural practices in one field, such as scientific experimentation, can influence image-making practices in another. For the painter, the process of making an image is usually considered a form of creative experimentation or a study of forms and qualities as they attest to figurative or abstract concerns. For a radiologist, however, image production is about securing a precise form of visual information. Yet, in both cases the results can lead to complex and intriguing visual images. Similarly, a wide variety of materials and equipment are used in image-making. Both the filmmaker and astrophysicist, for example, need to use increasingly sophisticated visual technologies in order to carry out their work. In one case this might be to create a virtual environment in which to stage a science-fiction drama, or in another, to visualise far-flung dimensions of our universe, which normally remain invisible to the naked eye.

 Image studies, then, sets out to think critically about images and image practices, and simultaneously to engage with image-making processes. At the heart of Manghani’s Image Studies, for example, is the idea of an ‘ecology of images’, through which we can examine the full ‘life’ of an image as it resonates within a complex set of contexts, processes and uses. Overall, image studies encourages critical frameworks within which interdisciplinary research can take place. As such, in the last decade or so, alongside developments in visual culture studies, image studies has taken up its place within intellectual debates and scholarship.  


Related Publications

Manghani (forthcoming) ‘Zero Degree Image’, in E. Alloa and C. Cappelletto (eds.) Dynamis of Images: Moving Images In a Global World. Contact Zones series, De Gruyter.

Elkins, Franks and Manghani, eds. (2015) Farewell to Visual Studies. Penn State University Press, Stone Art Theory Institutes Series.

Manghani (2014) ‘Image Theory’ in Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, edited by Michael Kelly. Oxford University Press, pp. 422-426.

Manghani (2013) Image Studies: Theory and Practice. Routledge.

Manghani, ed. (2013) Images: Critical & Primary Sources. Bloomsbury.

Manghani (2011) ‘Images: An Imaginary Problem?’ in J. Elkins and M. Naef (ed.) What is an Image? Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 226-228.

Manghani (2008) Image Critique and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Intellect Books.

Manghani, Piper, and Simons, eds. (2006) Images: A Reader. Sage.

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