The Contemporary Jpeg

In this contemporary moment, society has become Post-Internet, where the Jpeg image has become increasingly plastic through its continual circulation and re-appropriation on the web. Today the Jpeg image is something greater than the sum of its parts. Taken out of circulation and repurposed, it is ascribed with new value and meaning. (Olsen 1). This continual repurposing pushes the image to the verge of the ‘sublime’, where its originality is no longer in question and its authorship is ubiquitous (PI 3/ Lost 2). As the antiquated concepts of the author and origin fade, the Jpeg image becomes a plastic object with endless endpoints and artistic possibilities. Through social networking sites, image banks, and open forums the Jpeg image will be ‘less of a thing than the trace of a movement’ (Barthes).

This particular Jpeg image already presents a layer of unreality. While the model and the moment are real, I covered the model in baking flour in an effort to mask her skin and hair color. In doing this I created an image with ‘layers’. The concept of ‘layers’ refers to the adjustment and editing layers that are used in Photoshop. As the image becomes more edited, it becomes more layered. Already I have added a ‘layer’ to the image’s original reality by covering the model in flour.

The circulation of the Internet creates an environment where ‘cameraless’ images like this space desktop background can be found and used in conjunction with other Jpeg images. While computer software programs create ‘cameraless’ images these images nonetheless aspire to be viewed as realistic images (Found 1). The juxtaposition of the ‘cameraless’ image and the traditional image (one that was not entirely created by a software program) is a technique that mirrors collage.

The seamless combination of the space desktop background and the original image illustrates the technique of montage. Montage can be defined as the act of piecing together fragments, objects, and ideas to ‘create new valences’ (Lost 4). In this particular case, the addition of the space background adds a layer of flatness to the dimensional scene of the flour-covered model. The concept of flatness not only has to do with the way an image looks but also how it is packaged. When the Jpeg image is circulated on the web, it is compressed into a less defined format that can be easily downloaded and uploaded by multiple Internet users.

The addition of another image from the photoshoot further illustrates the idea of montage. The act of montage mimics the act of collage, where an artist will take piece of objects or images and combine them into their desired artwork. I chose to introduce this particular image because I wanted to create a ‘flour nebula’ around the model’s face.

These three “lifted” pieces are put in conversation with each other, so that the combination creates a third (or fourth or fifth…) “term” or image. Barthes defines this concept as the “tissue of quotations” where pieces work together to create a new piece that is viewed as a whole rather than a combination of found imagery.


The introduction of the second Internet image illustrates the idea that a Jpeg image will have multiple contributors. As the Jpeg image circulates the web it acts somewhat like an exquisite corpse, where Internet users add to the existing image based on the information the previous user left for them. Seeing the starry night background and flour nebula may make the next user push the ‘outer space’ idea further through the addition of another space desktop background.

As this Jpeg image collects layers of space backgrounds, additional images, and tonality adjustments it begins to emerge as a completely new image with a reality and origin that is different from its original reality and origin. The distance created between the original Jpeg image and this current Jpeg image is reminiscent of the distance between a representation and its reality. This Jpeg can be understood as a simulation, which is “no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (Baudrillard 2). This Jpeg image is removed from its origin so much so that it claims its own origin and in effect its own reality. If I displayed this Jpeg image with the original Jpeg image one could assume that each image would be viewed as its own image with its own meaning.

The final layer added to this Jpeg image is meant to be reflective of the gaze of the contemporary viewer. Although she doesn’t look at the camera like the prior model, she is aware of the camera’s gaze on her. The contemporary gaze can be defined as distracted but aware. With the recent development of social networking and live-web cam technology, the viewer is constantly “on-view” while he views other Internet viewers who are “on-view” as well. Just as the Jpeg image is constantly being circulated and consumed, so now is the Internet viewer being circulated and consumed by his peers.

Perhaps in Post-Internet society, the movement and plasticity of the Jpeg image is more interesting then its origin and destination. With the slow disintegration of the fourth wall between the viewer and the browser window and the collapse of the ‘log off’ function, the Internet has infiltrated all parts of contemporary society. Today the viewer is constantly consuming while simultaneously being consumed by other viewers. His gaze is distracted and his online self has merged with his actual self. The simulation of the distinction between being ‘online’ and ‘offline’ is nonexistent just as the simulation between map and territory was nonexistent for Baudrillard. Assuming we are always online, the Jpeg image is eternally plastic with no defined beginning or ending. Instead, it is an exquisite corpse in a constant state of movement, flowing in and out of browser windows and personal computers.