The Wonders Of Today Se2Ep4 AZON Machine, 2016, Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter. HD Video. Courtesy of the artist. © Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter.

Digital Capture: Southern California and the Pixel-Based Image World

Sep
21
2024
Feb
2
2025
The Skies and the Cosmos

A Curatorial Perspective on Two Objects

Digital imaging is inseparable from its origin in Southern California’s Cold War research labs. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer Eugene Lally presented and published a concept paper in 1961 that would later come to be regarded as the birth of digital imaging. Lally theorized the possibility of a spacecraft guidance system that relied on capturing image grids via photoconductive sensors. The purpose of this early digital picture taking was stated as “gathering scientific information, choosing missions, and providing strategic surveillance.” History would show how the technologies developed to realize Lally’s concept would also serve as a foundation for digital photography—a medium that transforms light into digital picture elements, or pixels, by way of sensors. This document exemplifies the interwoven-ness of digital photography and the military-industrial-scientific complex that served as its incubator. The term “military-industrial-scientific complex” refers to the network of personnel and institutions that collaborate to produce military weaponry and its technologies.

Azon Machine is a mockumentary series by Huntrezz Janos that plays on the profoundly patriarchal and white history of science and technology, satirizing the myths of neutrality, factuality, and reputability commonly associated with scientific breakthroughs. It pairs segments of seemingly factual information with a hypothetical Azon Machine prototype. The name “Azon” is an acronym for “alternate zero observance and navigation,” which theorizes zero not as an absence, but as containing numerous possibilities.


Exhibition page. 

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Mosaic Guidance for Interplanetary Travel first presented at Space Flight Report to the Nation, New York Coliseum, October 9–15, 1961. Eugene Lally. Archival image. Courtesy of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (formerly the American Rocket Society).
Mosaic Guidance for Interplanetary Travel first presented at Space Flight Report to the Nation, New York Coliseum, October 9–15, 1961. Eugene Lally. Archival image. Courtesy of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (formerly the American Rocket Society).
Mosaic Guidance for Interplanetary Travel first presented at Space Flight Report to the Nation, New York Coliseum, October 9–15, 1961. Eugene Lally. Archival image. Courtesy of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (formerly the American Rocket Society).
The Wonders Of Today Se2Ep4 AZON Machine, 2016, Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter. HD Video. Courtesy of the artist. © Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter.
The Wonders Of Today Se2Ep4 AZON Machine, 2016, Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter. HD Video. Courtesy of the artist. © Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter.
The Wonders Of Today Se2Ep4 AZON Machine, 2016, Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter. HD Video. Courtesy of the artist. © Huntrezz Benjamin Janos Hunter.

Discussion Questions

  • Discuss the dual purpose of early digital imaging technology as outlined by Lally: gathering scientific information and providing strategic surveillance. How have these purposes evolved over time?
  • How does the origin of digital imaging as incubated in the military-industrial-scientific complex shape contemporary debates around surveillance, privacy, and technological development?
  • How does Huntrezz Janos’s Azon Machine challenge traditional narratives of scientific neutrality and objectivity? What does the use of satire in this context reveal about societal perceptions of science and technology?

Bibliographic References

Apprich, Clemens, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Florian Cramer, and Hito Steyerl. Pattern Discrimination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2018.https://meson.press/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/9783957961457-Pattern-Discrimination.pdf
Bowen, Bleddyn E. War in Space: Strategy, Space Power, Geopolitics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2020.https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-war-in-space.html
Lally, Eugene F. “How Spaceflight was Born.” Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute Colloquium Series. 2008: 1-23.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_F._Lally