Before humankind was equipped with soft and shiny mobile technologies for producing, disseminating and consuming images on the go, from the comfort of their 3m2 bathrooms to thrilling remote rice fields in south Asia, it already demonstrated its penchant for intimate relationships with images… in the late Medieval Age. Indeed, it was common practice for mere believers at the time to bring around personal ‘devotional’ images. Often found in the shape of a wooden diptych, they were used by an increasingly mobile population who needed smaller, portable means to carry on a dialogue with God wherever they went. Medieval devotional images functioned as readymade tools, enabling one to induce a desirable state of mind, regulate the rhythm of the day or even comfort its owner in their solitude. Through sacred adoration, devotional images’ users dearly hoped, in their quest for piety, to benefit from their humdrum interactions with these images.
Back then, no high speed internet neither social media platforms relentlessly fuelled such daily and intimate relationship with images. Yet the medieval media, i.e. the church, fiercely participated in the mass production of godly representations, subsequently spreading their miniature replicas to the wide public. Anorexic males and holy virgins’ idols have long lost audiences’ fervour (although…). Never the less, devotional practices akin to medieval ones have perpetuated until today. Contemporary images of desires, often found in the shape of digital instants of frivolity, nowadays enable anybody rightly tooled up with a smartphone to carry on a dialogue with their friends and/or followers wherever they go via images of their latest holidays, Nikes, parties, selfies, bare feet, cappuccinos, sun rise, sun set, cocktails, cats and what not.
The roots of our contemporary image culture thus appear to be far beyond the end of the twentieth century but rather, grounded in early western religious discourses, heavily relying on the wide dissemination of images as means for communication and ideology formation. In today’s western world, images are everywhere. Their endless production and consumption, driven by the avidity to possess glimpses of a life that escapes our never supplanted discontentment, have become a constant thread in one’s daily life. Ironically, once images come to constitute forms of circulating capitals, they become part of a culture of things, producing enthusiasm, fervour and exaltation, analogous to old religious fetishism - or what Zizek calls ‘sublime objects of ideology’. Eventually, for we constantly vehicle images of events that we do not live but continuously seem to pursue in a quest for better, smatter, happier, funnier, prettier, cooler - we have become active participants of such an ideology.
If images once held a prospective function to not only help us recollect our past but to build our future, today’s images appear to hold us hostage of insignificant moments whilst keeping us in the loop of constant dis-satisfaction. Instead of being objects of growth, images have become insidious tokens of marketable pursuits of happiness. The almighty power of the church has long been disavowed but the mess is now every day, anytime, anywhere and we are its most devoted preachers.