Jacob Gaboury on Screenshots for Fotomuseum

18 Jul, 2019

Jacob Gaboury on Screenshots for Fotomuseum

Over the course of six weeks, Jacob Gaboury published a series of short posts on a history and theory of the computer screenshot for the Fotomuseum Winterthur's blog Still Searching.

Jacob's blog series engages the screenshot as a contemporary photographic object and vernacular practice for the documentation and preservation of computational interaction. Screenshots are one of the most pervasive forms of computational photography today, but their application is wildly variable and largely dependent on the cultures of use in which they are situated. To understand the screenshot as a unified technique for the mediation of computational systems, this series traces the multiple and competing histories of the screenshot and its evolution alongside the graphical computer throughout the 20th century. Ultimately these posts examine the screenshot as a window into the mundane and vernacular cultures of everyday computing.

You can see the complete list of posts here!

Still Searching... is a continually growing online discourse on the media of photography featuring multiple participants. It adopts many of the features of an ordinary blog, but turns them against the spectacle, offering an intellectually challenging and interactive discussion on all aspects of the photographic. It is conceived in the widest terms, debating (amongst other themes) photographic production, techniques, aesthetics, distribution and reception. It also addresses theoretical foundations, ontologies and historical contexts. The blog appears five times per year and is written by critics, theorists, educators and photographic artists. It has a readership from around the world. In short, Still Searching explores the photographic’s role in constituting the dominant visual media of our time.

Fotomuseum Winterthur is a leading institution for the presentation and discussion of photography and visual culture. From established names to emerging talents, the photographic works we present address contemporary issues while forging a link between the history of photography and its future. We explore the entire spectrum of photography, embedding artistic, applied and cultural photographic forms within meaningful contexts while reflecting critically on their conditions. Both in theory and in practice, we keep in touch with the ever-changing pace of photography, using experimental configurations to probe different forms of knowledge production. Through our collection (from 1960 onwards) we contribute towards shaping an evolving history, ongoing narrative and deeper understanding of photographic media.

Below are links to the individual posts:

Techniques for Secondary Mediation

Screenshots are the snapshots of our computers. They capture the movement and forms of everyday life as it is lived through the interface of a computational device. Given the trend, since at least the 1970s, toward media convergence, in which existing media forms are subsumed and transformed by digitization, today most any medium or practice that can be displayed on a computer screen may therefore be captured as a screenshot. Consequently, it can be difficult to speak of screenshots in the universal, as their application is highly dependent on the cultures of use in which they are situated.

Picturing Computation

Ironically what screenshots captured here was not stillness but interaction, that is, the ability to graphically communicate with a computer at a moment when its principal media were punch cards and magnetic tape. In many ways these images were responsible for shaping the technological imaginary of interactive computing that would evolve into the machines we use today – picturing computation as something more than a tool for the calculation of numerical data.

What You See Is What You Get

It is unclear precisely when in the 1970s the phrase made this leap into the computing community, but its acronym explodes in popular use from the mid-1980s through to the early 2000s – precisely the period when the gap between the appearance of the computer screen and the artifacts it could be made to produce was most clearly felt.

Screen Selfies and High Scores

I want to return once more to the question I began with: what exactly do these screenshots capture? On their surface it would seem these early game screenshots capture player skill and elite forms of play that could be marked or proven with a clearly photographed high score, but on closer examination it becomes clear that these screenshots capture cultures of use that are highly non-normative, and which call into question the very idea of measurable or quantifiable skill in play.

Screenshot Or It Didn't Happen

Engaging the history of the screenshot in this way asks that we begin to surface this unique function as a method for fixing, preserving, and rearticulating those media environments that make up our computers, and that we take seriously the visual everyday of our digital culture.