Above: A laptop and an illustrated newspaper. Credit: USA-Reiseblogger.

Affective Grids

From the front pages of the Metro freesheet digital version 7 February 2019: a screenshot portrait of a toddler (a news story about a murder investigation); people battling high winds as they walk (a library stock-photo); a picture showing the rubble of a collapsed block of flats in Istanbul (a disaster in Turkey with several deaths); an image of a table with several pints of beer (an article on unwelcome sexual advances); a morning-TV presenter cuddling a pet Pomeranian dog (a heart-warming story about a presenter's new puppy); a screenshot of a female police-officer proudly posing with a taser weapon (an article on how Cheshire Police are encouraged to use social media); a pixelated image of a man holding two newborn babies (an article on unorthodox/incompetent midwifery in Australia); a couple in a snowy landscape gaze at each other fervently (a film-still from an upcoming movie) ....

For J.G. Ballard, in the mass-media/digital age, decoding photo-images as they are encountered becomes a significant cognitive challenge. Something as basic as reading a newspaper--or browsing the Internet--becomes a complex task.

Each time the peruser comes across a new photo-image it must be interrogated in order to establish its affective context--a frame or grid-of-reference must be imposed upon the image in question. So that it can be correctly understood as funny, alarming, horrifying, amusing, weird, cute, disturbing, hilarious, very grave, etc.

Each new image is set in a definite affective scene and its emotional context must be near-instantly comprehended--the grid is often required to be reset and recalibrated every few seconds. As Ballard observed, it is an activity which requires surprisingly complex comprehension skills. These are skills that some people find difficult--and they might come away from the activity feeling confused and exhausted, and with misapprehensions or false impressions about what they have seen ...

(7 February 2019)