Picturing the Dark Svalbard. Technology and the Invisible Landscape

Anne Karhio


This article considers the ways in which visual landscape imagery is a result of nonvisual social, cultural and technological processes. In particular, it focuses on the way in which landscape aesthetic has traditionally hidden its non-visual foundations by examining a series of images taken near the town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, during the polar night in January 2017 and January 2019. During the winter months, between November and February, the sun remains below the horizon in this far-Arctic location, which means that in early January there isn’t enough light for the naked human eye to discern the exact contours of the wider surrounding terrain, even at midday. The images through which the invisible foundations of visual landscape aesthetics are explored are approached with the help of applications and devices that render visible, or highlight, the technologies and conventions of machine-enhanced visual perception: Snapchat filters, Theodolite app images, and digital night mode photography. The resulting pictures are examined to raise questions on the role of human agency in situations where we are entirely reliant on machinic forms of perception to make sense of our material environment. While scientific imaging is also addressed, the emphasis here is on media that inform, and are informed by, the everyday or tourist experience, and the aesthetic imaginary of landscape as a cultural category. Furthermore, the article will consider a series of artistic and literary renditions engaging with the same location. I propose that in the contemporary context of networked digital media, these images, drawing on our need to render the unknown environment visible literally as well as figuratively, draw our attention to the processes and structures of what Christian Ulrik Andersen and Søren Bro Pold have termed the “metainterface”, “characterized by hidden exchanges of information between objects” in the persistent pictorial representations of landscape in our media environment. 

Słowa kluczowe: darkness, visual aesthetics, machine aesthetics, landscape, photography, digital media, tourism, media technology

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