“Image Capital” at Fondazione MAST in Bologna, Italy

Exploring photography's value through different lenses at this exhibition

In Bologna, Italy’s Fondazione MAST, the Image Capital exhibition (on now through 8 January 2023) encourages viewers to discover photography as information technology. Curated by Francesco Zanot, the show—which is grouped into six sections: Memory, Access, Protection, Mining, Currency and Imaging—was conceived by photographer Armin Linke and photography historian Estelle Blaschke. Through prints, magazines, advertising posters and videos, the show traces ways that static and moving images are used to develop industrial processes, scientific research, management tools and even social and political activities.

Zanot explains, “Within this circuit, the photographic images take on a peculiar value that can be described as true capital worth. The push to use photography as information technology occurred around the middle of the 20th century when the management and administrative processes of companies and institutions were expanding and needed to be optimized.”

The opening Memory section explores reasons why the photograph was born: to preserve memories and record information. A 1966 Kodak advertisement reminds viewers, “If you don’t have a photographic memory, get one.” A 1945 Life Magazine article headline reads, “As We May Think: A top US scientist foresees a possible future world in which man-made machines will start to think.” It seems to nod toward contemporary AI and computational photography.

To preserve data and images, it becomes necessary to protect it. During the Cold War, maximum security storage systems intended for these specific purposes were widespread in the United States and many other countries. In the Protection section of the exhibition, the fictional film Bombproof (1956) imagines an atomic war where everything is destroyed. Still, the only salvation is preserving data stored in microfilms. Next to the video, visitors can also admire images shot by Armin Linke at the Iron Mountain preservation facility in Boyers, Pennsylvania, where time seems to have stopped in the 1950s.

Mining concerns the extraction of valuables—be it the exploitation of natural resources or the recovery of data and information. In the show, contemporary mining is demonstrated via a promotional video of Root AI that depicts a robot capable of recognizing the ripeness of tomatoes and collecting only those ready for the market.

Ultimately, photography allows us to see—and see far beyond our personal line of sight. This is demonstrated by the Imaging chapter through a series of scientific pictures of visual experiments developed through highly refined techniques. Moving particles photographed in 1981 at CERN in Geneva appear like timeless, almost abstract images that could date to antiquity or be from the future. This is the most obvious evidence that photography is capital, photography is technology and, above all, photography is pure magic.

Images courtesy of Fondazione MAST