Poor Uma!

A digital photo inspired by Hito Steyerl’s article "In Defense of the Poor Image."

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Learning Significance

  1. I started with a very different idea from where I ended up, but throughout the process, I was inspired by Hito Steyerl’s In Defense of the Poor Image as well as from the research I did for the last project where I examined Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I was inspired by Steyerl’s description of a poor image as being “an illicit fifth-generation bastard of an original image… not only is it degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur, one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all,” and how this related to Berger’s discussion of images being able to outlast what they represent.
    The original photo I used for this piece is the poster for the iconic film Pulp Fiction (1994) - perhaps the epitome of cult cinema. This movie poster has been a staple at University poster sales and is sure to be found on God knows how many dorm walls across the world. Culture becomes a commodity, images become ‘violently dislocated’ and ‘circulated through the vicious cycles of audiovisual capitalism,’ where highbrow actresses become nothing but pinup girls on the walls of eighteen year old college students. Was the poster iconic because of Uma’s seductive gaze and pose? Or was it iconic because of the film itself? What is the film worth if we can’t discern Uma anymore, or conversely, what is Uma’s career worth without being identified as a part of this film?
    As the image of this poster has become saturated throughout our culture, I was interested in literally oversaturating Uma’s image. I used various basic editing tools to “degrade” the image of Uma Thurman as best I could. The result ending up looking like static, which reminded me of Berger’s assertion that “the faculty of touch is like a static, limited form of sight,” (9) echoing the way that mass-produced dorm posters like this one, to some extent, give the consumer physical access to iconic images.

    Steyerl gives a hierarchy of images where she places cinema at the top and “more affordable derivatives of the same image” such as DVDs, images online, etc. as being poor images (3). These posters are very much poor images, being copied and reproduced and seen over and over again until the film itself isn’t even the point of the poster, until Uma isn’t even the subject anymore. Is the image of Uma Thurman here even an image anymore?
    What is the image of Uma on this poster when we can only discern its her through context? What is the image of Pulp Fiction if not connected to the iconography of Uma Thurman and the cult following of its director Quentin Tarantino? What is an image after iconoclastic degradation has occurred?