Curating Ubiquity: Photographic value after the Internet, roundtables.

Machine Vision’s Visions

19:00 London / 20:00 Berlin / 14:00 NYC Wednesday 17 February
06:00 Canberra Thursday 18 February
Speakers: Peter Bell, Tega Brain, Leonardo Impett, Fabian Offert

The project Curating Photography in the Networked Image Economy studies the networked image and its various intersections with curating, and has been engaging developers, engineers, museum professionals and social media influencers involved in the organisation and valorisation of images in contemporary culture. In many discussions, questions about machine agency and algorithmic decision-making have been raised: as curatorial decisions are increasingly prepared, framed or directly taken by algorithms, machine ways of seeing have permeated how images are seen, consumed, shared, selected, filtered and circulated. As the project is reaching its conclusion, we have organised a series of online roundtables to reflect upon the questions that have emerged through the research.

In this last instalment of our series, we will discuss the potential of machine vision to problematise its own curatorial practices. For this, we invited guests whose hybrid practices challenge assumptions of machine learning and open it up to scrutiny. We will first talk with them about their trajectories, how they came to their field of practice and what kind of knowledges, know-how, activism they bring to their work. Next we will turn to the questions that are core of their research. What can we learn when curatorial methods from the arts are operationalised in computer vision? How and what does an algorithm learn from its training data? And what kind of encounter can machine vision amplify? Answering these questions will be the occasion to evaluate the importance of notions such as scale, distant reading, machine topology and the urgency of learning the arts of noticing the technological entanglements of our curatorial practices.

‘Curating Photography in the Networked Image Economy’, is a collaborative research project between The Photographers’ Gallery London, Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Design, Computational Culture Lab, Australian National University & Centre for the Study of the Networked Image, London South Bank University funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Prof. Dr. Peter Bell studied Art History at Marburg University and was research associate in the Research Center SFB 600 (Strangers & Poor People) at Trier University, where he wrote his PhD thesis on visual representation of Greeks in Italian Renaissance. As a postdoc he worked on several digital art history projects at Heidelberg University and Cologne University and was group leader at the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. At the moment he is assistant professor in Digital Humanities at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). Areas of specialization are Digital Art History and Computer Vision, Critical Machine Vision as well as representations of strangers in art.

Tega Brain is an Australian-born artist and environmental engineer whose work examines issues of ecology, data systems and infrastructure. She has created wireless networks that respond to natural phenomena, systems for obfuscating fitness data, and an online smell-based dating service. Her work has been shown in the Vienna Biennale for Change, the Guangzhou Triennial, and in institutions like the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the New Museum, among others. Tega is an Assistant Professor of Integrated Digital Media, New York University.

Leonardo Impett is assistant professor of Computer Science at Durham University. In 2020 he finished his PhD with Sabine Susstrunk and Franco Moretti on Distant Reading and computer vision for the history of art. He has been DH Scientist at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max Planck), DH Fellow at Villa I Tatti (Harvard), Fellow and Visiting Scholar at CDH (Cambridge). He is currently an Associate of Cambridge Digital Humanities; an Associate Fellow of the Zurich Centre for Digital Visual Studies; and an Associate Researcher at the Orpheus Institute for Artistic Research.

Fabian Offert is Assistant Professor in History and Theory of the Digital Humanities at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research and teaching focuses on the digital/computational humanities, with a special interest in the epistemology and aesthetics of artificial intelligence. Before joining the faculty at UCSB, Fabian was Postdoctoral Researcher in the research project “Synthetic Images as a Means of Knowledge Production” (DFG SPP 2172) at Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen, and Associated Researcher in the Artificial Intelligence and Media Philosophy Research Group at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design. He received his PhD in 2020 from UCSB with a dissertation on “Critical Machine Vision”. Previously, he worked for a number of German cultural institutions as an Assistant Curator, among others ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Goethe-Institut New York, and Ruhrtriennale Festival of the Arts.

Previous roundtables

Political Economies of Algorithmic Curation

Monday 21st December at 11am CET
Speakers: Jonas Lund, Aude Launay, Bassam El Baroni

Curating has become the domain of technologists who seek to classify, analyse, interpret, aesthetically evaluate and steward the circulation of visual culture, resulting in new systems which seek to automate aesthetic judgement. And whilst data scientists have been urged to “think like art curators”, the British cultural sector has been urged to adopt data-driven decision making to adopt a more market-led approach to public programming. In this seminar, we will explore how practices of “curation” have been diffused and operationalised in computational culture, and trace how algorithmic curation finds its way back into the art museum – as curatorial muse, artistic methodology or as tech solutionism. Drawing on their practice as artists and curators, our speakers will address to this expanded field of ‘algocurating’, raising questions about art, labour, cultural value and the automation of curatorial processes.

Aude Launay is an independent writer and curator trained as a philosopher. For the past four years, her research focus has been on distributed decision-making through algorithmic and blockchain-based processes in art. More generally, she is interested in art that interferes with the power mechanisms underpinning governance structures. She is a researcher in the Blockchain in Media program of the Orleans School of Art and Design (2020-2022) and has been awarded a research grant (2019-2020) by the CNAP (French national centre for visual arts) to pursue her work around the democratic decision-making systems prototyped by artists with blockchains.

Jonas Lund is a Swedish artist that creates works that critically reflects on contemporary networked systems.

Bassam El Baroni is assistant professor in curating and mediating art at the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland and visiting lecturer at the Dutch Art Institute, ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem, the Netherlands.

Curating in the Wild

Friday 18th December at 11am CET
Participants: Prof Sabine Süsstrunk (EPFL), Dr Appu Shaji (Mobius Labs), Dr Miriam Redi (Wikimedia)

When computer vision scientists curate their datasets, they distinguish between photoshoots, photographs taken for the sole purpose of training an algorithm, and images “in the wild”, photographs found on the internet. “Curating in the wild” refers to the questions that arise when researchers and engineers intervene in a world of networked images and diverse photographic practices. What happens when computer scientists design and implement algorithms and platforms that curate, rank and facilitate the circulation of images?

With our guests, we will discuss how they approach a computational understanding of aesthetics and related problems such as the modelling of such standards as the ‘Good Image’ or the ‘Pretty Picture’. This aesthetic problem is intimately connected to the understanding of human perception where colours and saliency become objects of investigation. Addressing this problem also requires a collaboration between human and non-human actors: how amateur and professional photographers, platform curators and developers, algorithms and datasets are interacting and defining each other. Curating in the wild will therefore address at the same time questions of aesthetics and questions of trust and accountability for the network, the communities of photographers, the computer scientists and the algorithms that connect them all together.


Prof. Dr. Sabine Süsstrunk leads the Image and Visual Representation Lab in the School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC) at EPFL since 1999. From 2015-2020, she was also Director of the Digital Humanities Institute (DHI), College of Humanities (CdH). Her main research areas are in computational photography, computational imaging, color image processing and computer vision, machine learning, and computational image quality and aesthetics.

Dr Miriam Redi is a Research Scientist at the Wikimedia Foundation and Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London. Formerly, she worked as a Research Scientist at Yahoo Labs in Barcelona and Nokia Bell Labs in Cambridge. She received her PhD from EURECOM, Sophia Antipolis. She conducts research in social multimedia computing, working on fair, interpretable, multimodal machine learning solutions to improve knowledge equity.

Dr Appu Shajji is the CEO and Chief Scientist at Mobius Labs ( ) a company that licenses out lightweight, state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms that empower the edge with true visual intelligence. Previously he was Head of R&D of EyeEm, and built & led a team of top computer vision researchers from Europe, and solved various visual classification and ranking problems.

Image Aesthetics at Scale: Web 2.0, Flickr and its legacy.

Wednesday 9 December 2020, 19.00 CET
Participants: Markus Spiering, Bhautik Joshi

In 2004 the pioneering photo-sharing website Flickr was born, and by 2011 it was host to over 6 billion images. Flickr quickly became a case study in digital visual surplus; its millions of users unleashed a networked photographic tsunami which – over sixteen years later – we continue to be disoriented by.

In this event we will consider the legacy of Flickr with Markus Spiering and Bhautik Joshi, who have shaped visual culture through their work at leading technology companies including Flickr, Adobe, EyeEm and Industrial Light and Magic. Grounded in the practices of technologists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the discussion will explore the ’social’ life of images as the technical infrastructures which sustain them. Crucially, we will explore the implications of computer scientists as increasingly significant ‘curators’ of photographic culture. How are companies approaching the task of surfacing beautiful photography at scale to a community of users? How is machine vision and metadata mobilised towards forms of algorithmic connoisseurship? What can we learn from Flickr about classification, filtering, auto-tagging, copyright and the pressure to monetise content?.


Markus Spiering was Flickr’s Head of Product and managed the global product direction and product management team of Yahoo!’s photo-sharing service from 2011-2014. He subsequently joined the mobile photography platform EyeEm as its Chief Product Officer. Under his leadership the company transformed from a Berlin-based startup to a company with a world-class product and design and achieved global footprint. He later served as Vice President of Product and Design at Udacity, before joining Adobe in 2019 where he is presently Product Director of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, based in San Francisco. In 2013 Markus was named as one of Silicon Valley’s top 40 under 40 by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Bhautik Joshi occupied the post of Data Scientist & Back-end Team Lead at Flickr from 2013-2016, applying his expertise in big data, camera construction and image processing to develop the platform’s computational infrastructure. Prior to this, he worked as a research engineer at DigitalFish, Industrial Light and Magic and Rising Sun Pictures working in post-production. He is presently Senior Research Engineer at Adobe, with a focus on 3D and immersive media working with artists to create tools that solve pain points in content creation.

These events form part of Curating Ubiquity: Photographic value after the Internet, a programme of events organised by Katrina Sluis, Gaia Tedone and Nicolas Malevé supported by the SNSF funded research project Curating Photography in the Networked Image Economy.