Issue 2: Making Conversation

A Reflection on Industrialism in Photographic Image Production

This essay explores the production process of photographic images influenced by the technological and industrial mechanism, while reflecting on alternatives to deal with the redundancy in image viewing.


The emergence of photography revolutionised the way of seeing, pointing towards new definitions and concepts dominated by human consciousness and subjectivity. The possibilities and structure of an image is redefined, which maximises its potential to be duplicated, transferred, and consumed in various mediums. However, within only nearly 200 years, the groundbreaking effect seems no longer appealing with the images being produced at an unprecedented speed. ‘Informative’ has become the only desire while the accelerating of images become redundant is inevitable. In this essay, a reflection on photography as a result of the perfection of the industrialism in production, will be centred with analysing artists and their practice. And tracing up to the connection of photographs as technical images, brings unique qualities in forms and making.

Informative and redundant

Vilém Flusser’s theory of ‘Photographic Universe’ provides an insightful picture of the way images are encountered and consumed at present.

“What would be informative, exceptional, exciting for us would be a standstill situation: to find the same newspapers on our breakfast tables every day or to see the same posters on city walls for months on end. That would surprise and shock us.”

Vilém Flusser (2013)

Flusser meditates on the accelerating process of us being exposed to images, to an extent where the non stop changing situation becomes a standstill. Images are produced and soon become redundant as soon as they have been contacted with human vision. The constant craving for new images has ruled the habit of consuming images. It would be counter-intuitive to think of change being a state of redundancy, since stillness normally expires the information that we expected in anything including an image. Essentially, the freshness that we craving for can no longer be supplied by the constant changing images.

Zipei Han. Palm Tree. 2023

A new question has been raised: how to define ‘redundant’ and ‘informative’ in the modern context where viewers experiences are saturated by images. Flusser (2013) suggested that when a same or similar way of taking photographs is employed, those photographs are redundant as they possess no new information. For the photographers, the prompt would be to try out every functions of the camera to create new and informative images, and it can be extended to the emergence of photoshop and other post production techniques. The Photographic universe is getting richer by the realisation of different functions of the camera in producing images, the more viewers are exposed to richer styles of images, the harder to impress the eyes. 

In the production of technical images, the concept of ‘probable’ and ‘improbable’ that are drawn from informatics can yield into ‘the more improbable, the more informative’ (Flusser, 2011). Flusser explains as there are countless amount of possibilities that are situated on the spectrum with the ends of ‘inevitable’ and ‘impossible’, they can be regarded as being the extreme of probable and improbable. All of these concepts would be tied together with the visual experience we are having and affected in a mutual way. The greater possibilities would fall into creating closer to the daily photographs, which affected and shaped the common visual experience. A sense of rare and extraordinary sensation is desired to impress the eyes. Since the camera is dictated by our strategies: we turn into existing scenes, something already there. The habits of shooting have always been pointing towards famous architectural, ‘special’ but periodic events, families and friends. In some ways, these photographs are predictable, the function of documentation has been saturated with these impressions, other camera mechanisms are awaiting discoveries.

Zipei Han. Palm Tree. 2023

László Moholy-Nagy mentioned the similar idea in his famous writing  ‘Production, Reproduction’ in 1922. A ‘new relationship’ to be established between known and unknown functional phenomena, so as to be absorbed by functional apparatus, is the aspiration of Arts. Moholy-Nagy also proposed that the only valuable creation is to make a debut of previous unknown relationships, while the functional apparatus is always looking for new impressions. Similar to Flusser, Moholy-Nagy defines the real production restricted to meaningful new impressions that has not been seen before. The reproduction can be regarded as a repetition with existing relationships that provides meaningless craftsmanship.

A deconstructive way of looking and working is suggested by Moholy-Nagy, calling photographers to look at the sensitivity of the silver plate back of the camera, construct different ways of taking images, referencing medical or astronomical devices. Whether this idea of it is necessary to be innovative and think outside of the box is subscribed by the artist or not, it seems to be the artist’s fate to impress the world and the audience with continuous stunning visual experience. In fact, not only the artist should not be comfortable with a certain mature practice to keep reproducing the same type of work, the entire society is pushed to pursue non-existing relationships and impressions in any fields of work. 

Zipei Han. Airbag. 2023

Both Flusser and Moholy-Nagy proposed a way of taking and viewing photographic images against its formidable power of revisiting history in the most straightforward method. The sense of past history and death are reminded to anyone that is making contact with the surface of the photograph. The stability of a photographic image is attest to the quality of the camera mechanism, as a photograph is holded and cut out with authority of the ‘capture’ move by the camera. The function of documentation is widely accessed by photographers and viewers that a consensus is reached: both the visual outlook and contained meanings are inseparable to the past events. Hence, To go against the ‘what had happened’ in the photograph, searching for fluidity of the photograph, could be the guideline for new impression.

Apparatus and Visibility

Apparatus is a central concept that relates to technical image, which is the system and mechanism that creates technical images to reality. According to Flusser(2013), the word ‘apparatus’ stems from the latin word ‘apparare’ which indicates a state ‘to prepare’. It is an isolated system that awaits to cooperate with human consciousness, well prepared to translate reality into images. One of the most critical aspects concerning apparatus is the way it catches invisible elements in the environment and puts them into production. In the chapter ‘To make concrete’ in his ‘Into the universe of technical images’, Flusser(2011) started by describing the situation we are facing a non dimensional, discrete, free of charge posthistoric state, where all the particles are floating, unruled. Compared to the one dimensional historical process, which was established by the emergence and usage of text, the dissolved elements could potentially drift further away both the universe and our consciousness. Flusser breaks down the relationship of technical images and apparatus into:

Technical images arise in an attempt to consolidate particles around us and in our consciousness on surfaces to block up the intervals between them in an attempt to make elements such as photons or electrons, on one hand, and bits of information, on the other hand, into images. This can be achieved neither with hands nor with eyes nor with fingers, for these elements are neither graspable, nor are they visible. For this reason, apparatuses must be developed that grasp the ungraspable, visualise the invisible, and conceptualise the inconceivable. And these apparatuses must be fitted with keys so that we may manipulate them. These apparatuses are essential for the production of technical images. All the rest comes later.

Vilém Flusser (2011)

Apparatus is something beyond human ability in particular of consolidate particles into something meaningful. The apparatus is a solitary system that it can be manipulated in a limited ways to perform, the function has no pre-connection with the input (human and particles) or the output (image world). The photographic apparatus works blindly to transform the effects of photons on molecules of silver nitrate into photographs, to bring something invisible into visible blindly(Flusser, 2011). The development of the camera technology is raising its ability to produce better quality and greater visibility photographs with higher pixel sensors and sharper lenses. High resolution images tend to be superior since they are larger in files, taking up more space and ‘heavier’ to transfer. Old and lower resolution images are marginalised since technology advances to follow the rule of matching up the quality of devices so that they can work together under similar speed and standard. The alignment of all the devices ensures the visibility of the particles that formed together by the camera in an ever high quality. It also supports the technical images to be transformed and translated smoothly and effortlessly among different systems and mediums for output and presentation.

Zipei Han. untitled. 2023


As we step into the universe created by photographs, technical images and the apparatuses that generated them, examples of innovative practice considering the industrialism in the process of image production are surfaced by artists.

Wade Guyton

Circling around the technological functions and industrialism in image making, Wade Guyton’s work creates illusions between painting and photography, through printing various images, letters and stripes on canvas. Oversized canvas as an unconventional surface in the printing process, was folded and run through the gigantic Epson printer twice, leaving unexpected ink marks and traces on the materials. 

The canvas and ink provides the basic elements for a ‘painting’ in general, and the openness to accidents, damage in the materiality of the painting, projects a drastic contrast to the fixed, smooth surface of a photographic print that is industrially produced. However, the imperative to categorise the work as a ‘painting’, only seems to run counter to the artist’s will. It holds value for Guyton to contemplate on the fluid nature of his work, being resistant to pure identification, diffusing into the territory of digital, photographic, sculptural, time-based. (Guyton, 2016)

Installation view. Wade Guyton at Galerie Chantal Crousel. 2023

The elasticity of these works starts from the content material picked to feed the machine. It could be argued that the artist is building a universe where all sorts of photographs, texts, shapes are treated indifferently, they all become the input for this production process. Nevertheless, there is an interesting gap or contradiction between the quality Epson printer and the images that were deployed by Guyton. Some of his motifs based on snapshots, screenshot of the web page to resized work or photos taken in handy. A necessarily ‘high resolution’ of the image – normally required in printing in a higher standard printer to create ‘flawless and sharp’ artwork – does not seem to become Guyton’s guideline for output. There is a fluidity and transforming pattern in these image based elements, as if they were arrested bluntly at some point of a transaction inside the universe, and put into production(reproduction).

The apparatus – a combination of human and technology and being granted superhuman quality hype – tends to equalises and standardised the collected materials and data (Adler, 2016). This was the description when mentioning Thomas Ruff’s Porträts (Portraits) series, in which a neutral and straightforward expression was enacted to photograph each subject to create a series of archival-like documents. In Ruff’s case, the camera and the photographic technology that is being utilised, becomes a prepared stable medium, with readiness to absorb anything that comes in the situation and translate into a photograph. The uniformity that is produced by the apparatus is maximising the potential to function, openness to interpretation and the ability to transform. The photograph seems to carry all the detailed information hidden under the visually deadpan appearance and well prepared for further conversion into other apparatuses and universes.

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2016 © Wade Guyton, Courtesy of the artist Photography: Ron Amstutz

Unlike Ruff highlighted the speciality of the apparatus, Guyton is gravitated to find the gaps between apparatuses and mediums. The Epson printer, which could be regarded as an apparatus, empowered by the industrialism of modern technology, is supposed to finish up a clear edged, sharp, smooth, vivid printed image on paper. Hochdörfer(2013) commented on Guyton’s use of technology as not being satisfied by its realms of possibility, attempting to push the boundaries through mistreating and confronting the limitation. If we were to consider the screen or film as the support material for the output of the camera apparatus, the sensitive, fragile and smooth photo paper would be the equivalent for the printer as the apparatus. Guyton’s experimental practice attest to the inseparability between the apparatus and the material, and the critical texture of the support for output ensures the printer has the agency in its production. The predesignated landing space for the image becomes unfixed, while the possibility to be cropped, distorted, bent and rearranged is live.

Christopher Williams

The industrialism in the photography could also be showcased inside the pictorial space, while it opens up other unplanned possibilities. In his series ‘The Production Line of Happiness’, Christopher Williams presents a group of photographs of daily objects in a conventional commercial, editorial style visual language.

Symbolically, an industrial advertisement ‘apparatus’ is utilised for transforming mundane objects into shiny, perfect, attractive and uncanny subjects as the output. Meticulously constructed lighting, appealing colour, flat with rich details, keep reminding us both the promising commodities in the commercial world, and the trustworthiness of photography itself.

Christopher Williams, Standardpose [Standard Pose] , Images courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Paris

However, the reality is neither the real world nor photography is perfect as expected. The pictorial effect of ‘beauty’ is captivating the viewer’s eyes, inviting them to enter the garden, supplementing with code like titles and text, seducing the viewer to conduct the open-ended research on their own (Weissman,1990). The simplified, non-contextual background isolated and centre stage the subject, soon the omissions and imperfectness of the apple and the model would be discovered through scrutiny. However, the question then becomes is this the end of the story? If this is the bites (text and errors) that are deliberately leaking by the artist, where to go from now? Do the viewers be satisfied and thought they had found out Williams’ secret? For Williams, instead of using language as a way to ‘correct’ the photograph, taking the silence of the photograph as a positive note, let the incompleteness of it to be accepted as an ontological conditional rather than negativity (Williams, 2014). The amount of information that is carried by a photograph is limited, and there is the entire world in time outside of each frame. It would be the photographer’s destiny to get scrutinised and misinterpreted for the work since the authorship is always profound in photographs. The oversimplified image actually opens up millions of ways of interpretation due to the fact that the viewer would hesitate and question if everything were acknowledged in there, so as to decipher the artist’s intention.

Christopher Williams, Bergische Bauernscheune,  Images courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Paris

Essentially, Christopher Williams has created a universe of images that under a ‘production line’, decorated with the teasingly informative title and notes, seemingly pointed out a way for the viewers to go down while having a great likelihood of misguide to bigger mystery. Namely in William’s Angola to Vietnam* (1987-9), the black and white plant photographs showing the details of organicity appear to have no connections with the theme. However, in fact, the photograph focused on the replicas of glass works from countries where political disappearance happened, so that a new way of classification emerged with this system, challenging the existing classification habits and power(Thorne, 2015). Macguffin, which is a word specifically originated in filmmaking, as a device to drive the plot and keep the audience engaging while being insignificant or irrelevant when it first encountered. There is another version would be one of the close up shots or details that drags attention, but turns out being a red herring and truly unimportant to the later storyline.


Theory by Flusser has been talked about abundantly in this essay, and it is only right to finish with his idea of the hierarchy in apparatuses:

There are therefore two interweaving programs in the camera. One of them motivates the camera into taking pictures; the other one permits the photographer to play. Beyond these are further programs – that of the photographic industry that programmed the camera; that of the industrial complex that programmed the photographic industry; that of the socio-economic system that programmed the industrial complex; and so on. Of course, there can be no ‘final’ program of a ‘final’ apparatus since every program requires a metaprogram by which it is programmed. The hierarchy of programs is open at the top.

Vilém Flusser (2013)

Flusser reveals the inseparable relationship between different apparatus and programmes under the general social political environment. Christopher Williams and Wade Guyton’s work perfectly showcased the hierarchy of industrialism in every aspect of photography, including the fake ‘production line’ inside the photograph, the tyre and the camera, also the printer as an essential production device in photography can become imperfect with different mediums of output. The pictorial content, the photo paper, the printer, the camera all contributed to the different apparatus making up the entire photographic universe in the real world.

The industrialism is the product of the development of technology and the intensive collaboration between apparatuses, leaving minimal spaces and gaps for human intervention during the production process. Photographic images are hence directed to a specific zone where they are accessible, sharp, high visibility, smooth surface and in rectangular shape. These characteristics are the demonstration of a complicated, confined, deeply constructed cooperative system created by apparatuses. What it also indicates is perhaps a possible sideway for these properties that might open up new impressions and potentialities.


Installation View. Zipei Han. Palm Tree. 2023

Installation View. Zipei Han. Palm Tree. 2023

Installation View. Zipei Han. Airbag. 2023

Installation View. Zipei Han. untitled. 2023

Installation View. Wade Guyton at Galerie Chantal Crousel. 2023

Wade Guyton, Untitled, 2016 © Wade Guyton, Courtesy of the artist Photography: Ron Amstutz

Christopher Williams, Standardpose [Standard Pose] , Images courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Paris

Christopher Williams, Bergische Bauernscheune,  Images courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, Paris


ARTINFO, B. (2014). Christopher Williams Talks ‘Happiness’ at MoMA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023].

Guyton, W. (2016). Wade Guyton: The Digital Ghosts and The Epiphany of Painting.

Hochdörfer, A. (2013). Wade Guyton: Whitney Museum of American Art. Artforum 51, no.6. pp.234-37.

Moholy-Nagy, L. (1922). Produktion-Reproduktion. Der Sturm, 7. pp.97-101.

Thorne, H. (2015). Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023].

Vilém Flusser (2011). Into the universe of technical images. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.

Vilém Flusser (2013). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. Reaktion Books.

Weissman, B. (1990). Christopher Williams’ Dark Green Thumb. [online] Artforum. Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2023].

About the author

Zipei Han is an artist based in London/Guangzhou working primarily with photographic images, exploring the frictions between materiality and visuality in its production process. He graduated from MA Fine Art: Photography at Camberwell College of Arts in 2023.

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