You would think that digital images don’t ever degrade, and you would be… wrong. And the reason for this? Compression. Every time you upload an image on say, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for example, the image loses a fraction of it’s quality. We see this especially pronounced when uploading highly compressed formats like JPEGs or images that contain pronounced blocks of the colours red, green or blue (screen colours). Multiply that fraction times 90 and the result is unrecognisable. This is part of an experiment by photographer Peter Ashton, who decided to see what happens when you repost an image over and over again.
Ashton took a portrait of composer Alvin Lucier and documented it’s decay every time it was re-uploaded to Instagram. The first few times didn’t really make a difference, but as soon as the image had been uploaded 20 times, degradation is pronounced and very obvious. The experiment, titled “I Am Sitting In Stagram” sought to display degradation after 90 uploads – all in a sequence to which was then turned into the video below. Images are often uploaded to the web, downloaded and re-uploaded, and we don’t really realise what this does to them – after 90 uploads, the image is desaturated, lifeless, and unrecognisable.
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In the experiment, Ashton tips his hat at Lucier himself, who conducted a similar experiment in 1969 called “I Am Sitting In A Room”, which involved recording the recording of the recording over and over again until the medium was so degraded that all was left is noise.
It’s actually quite interesting because we never think of media as perishable unless deleted. Degradation is actually a very present threat to media and we don’t realise it. With the explosion of the image and video as an integral part of social interaction on the internet, this shows the fragility of the medium despite our technological advances. In any case, this might be a new art form born out of social media!