Operational Images

From the Visual to the Invisual

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Jussi Parikka

First introduced by the German filmmaker Harun Farocki, the term operational images defines the expanding field of machine vision. In this study, media theorist Jussi Parikka develops Farocki’s initial concept by considering the extent to which operational images have pervaded today’s visual culture, outlining how data technologies continue to develop and disrupt our understanding of images beyond representation.

Charting the ways that operational images have been employed throughout a variety of fields and historical epochs, Parikka details their many roles as technologies of analysis, capture, measurement, diagramming, laboring, (machine) learning, identification, tracking, and destruction. He demonstrates how, though inextricable from issues of power and control, operational images extend their reach far beyond militaristic and colonial violence and into the realms of artificial intelligence, data, and numerous aspects of art, media, and everyday visual culture.

Serving as an extensive guide to a key concept in contemporary art, design, and media theory, Operational Images explores the implications of machine vision and the limits of human agency. Through a wealth of case studies highlighting the areas where imagery and data intersect, this book gives unprecedented insight into the ever-evolving world of posthuman visuality.

Background image, Equirectangular Landscapes 05: Nevada Falls (After Muybridge), based on 3D scan data captured in Yosemite National Park in 2016. ScanLAB Projects.


  • rights
    The University of Minnesota Press gratefully acknowledges support for the open-access edition of this book from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and the Operational Images and Visual Culture project, funded by Czech Science Foundation’s EXPRO grant 19-26865X.

    Portions of chapter 4 are adapted from “From Planetary Depth to Surface Measure, or How to Read the Future from an Image,” in Deep Mediation: Thinking Space in Cinema and Digital Cultures, ed. Karen Redrobe and Jeff Scheible (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2021). Chapter 5 was originally published as “On Seeing Where There’s Nothing to See: Practices of Light beyond Photography,” in Photography Off the Scale: Technologies and Theories of the Mass Image, ed. Tomáš Dvořák and Jussi Parikka (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021).

    Copyright 2023 by Jussi Parikka

    Operational Images: From the Visual to the Invisual is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 License.
  • isbn
  • publisher
    University of Minnesota Press
  • publisher place
    Minneapolis, MN
  • restrictions
    Please see the Creative Commons website for details about the restrictions associated with the CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
  • rights holder
    Jussi Parikka
  • doi