Tag Archives: Representation

The Limits of Digitisation


Jeffery argues that virtual representation has merit in itself, but he also points out that there are limits and issues surrounding digitisation. “In the digital domain long-standing issues of data integration, discovery and long-term preservation have now begun to be tackled in a meaningful way.” (144) How we understand digitisation is important, and the purpose affects the process itself – depending on why we are digitising (or recording), the data associated may change and even how it is presented and to what standards are adhered to (which affect how it can be accessed and used by programs and people). Though Jeffery is talking specifically about digitisation as an indispensable tool for archaeology and other specific areas – this is a widely applicable point on the digital sciences overall. While computer sciences have come on a long way in a relatively short space of time, further review and development is still needed to resolve longstanding issues around the use of data. Technological limits on digitisation aside, there are still conceptual limits stemming from earlier issues around representation.

Automatic means of production supposed ‘objectivity’ separates this representation from the artistic processes previously required. While advancements in technology have furthered the scope of digitisation, many issues surrounding recording and representation have been discussed previously. “Originality in photography as distinct from originality in painting lies in the essentially objective character of photography.” (Bazin, 7) Due to this ‘objectivity’, there is a credibility implied of the representation of a “real” object. “Photography enjoys a certain advantage in virtue of this transference of reality from its thing to its reproduction” (Bazin, 8) The understanding of photography as storage of data, measurements and recordings of ‘real life’ is often extended to the digital world. However, just as Bazin experimented with manipulating this “reality” in film to display the creative vision of the director– digital technology can be used to manipulate data and representations according to the inputter, the choices they have made and the processes that they have followed to digitise and attach data. Digital technology has reached a point where it can be used to create new and virtual objects of unprecedentedly high quality, while this widens the scope of recording and digitisation it also brings up conceptual difficulties. It is difficult to say which category digitisation falls into as on one hand it connotes authenticity as recording of data, but on the other hand the capacity to for manipulation has ramifications for how we understand this recording or representation.

Semiotics have provided useful critical tools for examining the art and the object, interpreted according to subjectivities – and these concerns are also applicable to digitisation, and the collection of data which is ultimately a representation. One of the key distinctions is between the ‘signifier’ or representation and the ‘signified’- what it represents. “Context other words, is a text itself, and it thus consists of signs that require interpretation” (Bal and Bryson, 175) There are choices made about the information included alongside digitisation. The attachment of metadata to a digital object e.g. a photograph, allows its indexing and aids computer programs use of data attached to a file. Encoding data has its limitations, needing a structure that can be accessed and read. XML as a hierarchal coding language has become the industry standard, and is extendable – providing a basis for other coding languages that attach metadata to photos. It has the capacity to take in different types of data or signifying elements, but this also needs to be read or interpreted to make use of it necessitating standards. How information is attached to a digitised object and how it is presented, as well as how it can be used and accessed by computers and people. Standardised schemas like Dublin Core and VRA core are utilised in order to make metadata accessible and readable but though they are commonly used, these may not be the best schemas for encapsulating data depending on what is being digitised and why. A further consideration is that metadata needs to be attached the original object (or signified), but also the digitised image or scan and surrounding data (signifiers).



Bal, Mieke and Bryson, Norman “Semiotics and Art History”. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 2 (1991), pp. 174-208

Bazin, Andre. “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” Trans. Hugh Gray. Film Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 4 (1960), pp. 4-9
“Film Theorist Andre Bazin” Web. https://adferoafferro.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/film-theorist-andre-bazin.jpg
Jeffrey, Stuart. “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation.” Open Archaeology, No. 1: (2015), pp. 144–152