The great German photographer, who with Estrelle Blaschke signs the Image Capital exhibition at MAST in Bologna, explained to us how photography has become information technology

What does photography have to do with capital? Image Capital tells the Foundation MAST (Manufacture of Arts, Experimentation and Technology) of Bologna. Not the usual 'photography exhibition' but - as the subtitle says - an exhibition 'on' photography and its countless practical uses in science, culture and industry.

From a performance by the German photographer Armin Linke at the Center Pompidou in Paris, he arrives in Bologna, after five years of work around the world together with the photography historian Estelle Blaschke, Image Capital, the exhibition curated by Francesco Zanot and open to the public until January 8, 2023.

A journey through six stages (Memory, Access, Protection, Mining, Imaging, Currency) that offers videos, installations, documents and period equipment, blow-ups and interviews that - together with the texts by Estelle Blaschke ( shown on large horizontal panels, almost a work in turn) -, they speak of photography as had never been seen in an art gallery.

From indexing strategies and long-term preservation of images to their use in science and industry, from machine learning to automatic facial recognition to digital rendering and modeling techniques.

We met Armin Linke at the inauguration to find out more.

Armin Linke, what is the relationship between this whole world linked to production and your artistic work?

As a photographer, it comes naturally to me to ask myself what is the story of my medium, but I also wonder as a citizen given how we are immersed in images and how much - even when we do not realize it - these are important for the our life.

It is a huge topic, so much so that Estelle Blaschke and I we had to circumscribe it for example, omitting, for example, areas such as medicine, justice or the video game industry: this is enough to understand that photographs ( and the information they contain) are not just for fixing memories or expressing an emotion or an artistic intuition.

Images are a precious heritage for our life. Think of the Notre Dame Cathedral after the devastating fire of 2019: to help the complex reconstruction work, Ubisoft, the company that produces the Assassin's Creed saga, has made available its database of images and rendering - the result of collaboration with architects and urban planners - who reproduce the cathedral in a very accurate way.

Is this why today images do not represent but 'are' a capital, an economic value?

They are so in many different ways, even before cyber capitalism. Photography spreads as an extension of human memory, according to the philosophy of Eastman Kodak Company: don't miss the moments significant of one's life, of the affections, such as those of everyone's history (the birth of a child, the assassination of Kennedy ...), and this already represents a value.

From here to the need to protect it is a short step, and then here are the databases. On display are the photos I took in the underground deposit of Iron Mountain, in Pennsylvania, a former slate mine that, since 1951, has been used to store microfilm, photographs and microfiche of government documents, corporate databases, record companies, photo libraries, universities.

Woe to them if they deteriorate, but at that depth there are the ideal conditions of temperature and absence of humidity for these documents to remain intact.

The economic value of the images is then more evident in the industry. Like in the Dutch company that produces orchids in Wateringen, in the Netherlands where I stayed for a few days to shoot photos and videos.

Thanks to a system of cameras and sensors, which photograph and scan each single plant, not only the machine perfectly manages the various life stages of orchids but, at the end of the cycle, it also establishes the economic value and at which market, between Northern and Southern Europe, each plant is more suitable.

The leap in scale represented by digital photography is also told here, which has even overturned the production process. What does this mean?

The objects of our world today are built on the basis of photographs and their re-elaborations, with enormous repercussions on the economic and political level: whoever owns the large masses of images that feed this system has immense power.

In this exhibition I wanted to tell how, in capitalist society, photography does not only dominate the imagination, but much more.

You have also documented how, behind this immaterial world, however, the work of so many people is hidden. Would we rather not know?

On display is a beautiful work done by the students of the Dutch Polytechnic of Deft with the workers of the Amazon Turk department. They are paid piecework workers to look at and describe hundreds of images, in practice they provide Amazon the precious metadata and are paid 15 cents per image.

All these workers were asked to photograph the room in the house where they work and to provide information such as working hours, earnings, square meters of the room and so on. The result is an anthropological gallery that blows up our idea that digital is the dematerialization of reality, revealing how, behind us, there is a lot of material work.

An exhibition that is more difficult to tell than to see, due to the great impact and the wealth of materials. To be followed also through the platform where you will find the video interviews and the interventions of the guests of some in-depth evenings organized at the MAST Foundation from now to January.

When the exhibition leaves Bologna for Paris and, five years later, Armin Linke will be able to close the circle by returning to the Center Pompidu.