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Metadata, Mon Amour


Metadata is the data about data: keywords assigned to an image in a media database, a number of words in a text file, the type of codec used to compress an audio file. Metadata is what allows computers to “see” and retrieve data, move it from place to place, compress it and expand it, connect data with other data, and so on.

The title of this chapter refers to the ongoing modern struggle between the visual data, i.e. images, and their creators and masters – the humans. The later want to control images: make new images which would precisely communicate the intended meanings and effects; yield the exact meanings contained in all the images already created by human cultures; and, more recently, automate these and all over possible image operations by using computers. The former can be said to “resist” all these attempts. This struggle have intensified and became more important in a computer age – more important because the ease with which computers copy, modify, and transmit images allows humans to daily multiply the number of media records available.

Creating metadata is not, however, only the economic and industrial problem to be solved – it is also a new paradigm to “interface reality” and the human experience in new ways. This is already demonstrated by a number of successful art projects that focus on new ways to describe, organize and access large numbers of visual records. Importantly, these projects propose not only new interfaces but also new types of images, or, more generally, “records” of human individual and collective experience: film/video recordings embedded within virtual space (Sauter, Invisible Shape of Things Past; Fujihata, Field-Work@Alsace); photographs of people/objects organized into networks/maps based on their semantic similarity (Legrady, Pockets Full of Memories; Walitzky, Focus).

Article  2002