The International Journal of the Image offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the The Image Research Network.
Following a detailed analysis of popular cyborg images that circulate on the internet, this article discusses the leading visual communication strategies of what was identified as the emerging genre of a “transhumanist visuality.” The article argues that the visual registers of cyborg images decontextualise and repurpose popular icons from cultural history, in particular from the streams of classic humanism, in order to construct visual memes that both reflect and propagate the transhumanist worldview. The purpose of the discussion is to show how the fanciful images of a techno-fantasy guide the public perception of human future as positively technological.
This article publishes the key findings from a five-year study that analysed over one thousand futuristic images from the public domain. The study found that a nascent “transhumanist visuality” paints an increasingly compelling picture of a future that is not only secured through technology but is technology. With representations of transhumanism in over one hundred nations, and the Transhumanist Party standing for the 2016 US Presidential Election, the movement today is ready to take on the broad reorganisation of society.
Although the written discourses of transhumanist ideas are regularly embellished with cyborg and other human enhancement images, a focussed study of the “accidental” visual companions to the transhumanist debate had not previously been undertaken. These images, authored by sundry members of the public – from amateurs to professional artists to self-taught photoshoppers – unwillingly contribute to a visuality that positively underwrites transhumanist thinking. The research informing this article was the first large study that regarded the latent visual messages of cyborg images as paramount to the increasing popularity of the movement.
The analysis of the visual data drew on a combination of content analysis, which counted, categorised and summarised manifest visual registers in the data, and interpretative iconology that qualitatively elucidated latent visual meanings. With this approach, the study makes a significant contribution to the reintroduction of iconological methodology to visual analysis. Iconology, indebted to the early work by Ervin Panofsky and Aby Warburg and further developed by the “pictorial turn” scholars Gottfried Boehm, Tom Mitchell and Martin Jay, aims at contextually understanding complex visual meaning that reaches far beyond formal sign-systems or a regularised grammar. However, iconology, in common with many other visual methodologies, does not come with a concrete analytical toolkit. Guidelines of how to look at images are often vague and unreliable, and visual interpretation is left to the “educated eye” of the researcher. In order to provide a robust analytical framework, the study employed the conventions and practices of visual communication for the formal analysis of images. Utilising the well-established registers of visual communication as analytical codes, the study delivers an accessible method for the examination of intricate visual meaning and, in doing so, broadens the scholarship of visual communication as a research methodology.
— Gudrun Frommherz
Tara McLennan, The International Journal of the Image, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.33-43