Visual Formations is a new developed method to study in a systematic way a large amount of images. This historical formalist method differs from both art history and visual culture in several ways, although issues concerning aesthetics and collective, public imagination are explicit included.
First, the object of study is not the image as an unique piece of fine or high art (museum art), with the (highly-gifted) artist as the source of the intended message or meaning. Nor is the image in general (literature, and everything the eye can see ) an object to talk about (in terms communication, culture, globalization, identity, ideology, interdisciplinary, intermediality, interpretation, media, meaning, multimodality, power, remediation, representation, etc.). Our theoretical object of study is the image itself, in its specific formal configuration and analyzing its qualities is the starting point of the research. We limit our research to the (moving) image that is highly stylized, that is, obeys codes and genre conventions and is flat (two-dimensional: press photograph, cartoon, painting, architectural drawing, modern art, film, documentary, web(ads), scientific images, etc.).
Second: the field of image-studies is broad and opaque, especially the words that are used to talk about images. This new method strives for the articulation of an ensemble of internal consistent concepts as instruments to describe in a comparative and transparent way a variety of images. Making a glossary in which current terms are compared and verified, is one of the necessary steps to guarantee a scientific process.
Third: Images will be classified in our database, formally as well as concerning their thematic issue. The result is a taxonomy of several patterns or thematic collections that form our mental horizon and generate as we hope to establish, an imagined community. These patterns can be traced in time, but will differ in dimension as well as in duration. Although no one can be addressed as the (intentional) source or center of the pattern as a whole, the analysis will show the way in which many individuals (re)acting in more or less the same way (in this pilot study, photographers, editorial offices of news papers, some artists etc.) will eventually produce by way of emergence, a process known as swarming or shoaling. That is, it will be possible to elevate this concept and apply it to human culture by describing the way in which a variety of images will contribute to the public imagination that will serve as a common ground for people to imagine, to think, to disagree and to act. Depending on our findings in this pilot study, we will widen our research to other visual archives. In the end, we do hope, it will be possible to understand the sedimentation that is formed by the appearance, growth, transformation, migration, disappearance, shifts of these patterns of images that form such an important part of human culture.