Alfred Messerli

On the Genealogy of the Flood of Images

Historic Core and Ideological Exaltations


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The paper deals with the phenomenon of an increasing presence of images in everyday life since about 1820 and the metaphorical reshaping of this fact. Already in the middle of the 19th century publicists react defensive towards these new images – both towards fixed ones as panoramas or paintings in museums and towards moving ones as leaflets, illustrations in magazines and books, collector cards – which can be produced cheaper by new technologies and are widely distributed. In their defense the publicists make use of the metaphor of a flood of images that must be contained. After the first phase of increasing availability of images from 1820 to 1860 a second one follows between 1890 and 1920 (raster printing of photographs, movies and posters). The third phase finally starts 1960 (television, internet) and is still lasting. However, the metaphor of the flood of images with its implicit fears and resentments against images stubbornly remains. Yet people of the 21st century by now have an image competence, of which they only need to become aware of.

flood of images, image poverty before 1820, mass image as of 1820, discourse on the dominance of the image, image factory, halftone, image competence