To be fully understood in all their dimensions, digital media have to be conceived as the intricate interplay of three types of elements, they are at the same time :
- a diverse range of apparatuses,
- a vast array of practices,
- a network of concepts.
The expression “digital cinema” for instance can describe the digital projection of a “classical” movie in a theater, the making of a film with a cellphone, or the idea that “compression” is a crucial aspect of a cinematic work’s aesthetic and economic coherence.
The aim of this research project is to understand this ensemble as a system. It also aims at questioning its cultural and epistemological coherence, and at reappraising the exact points of discontinuity between the analog and the digital cultures and epistemes.
Such a study requires the analysis of both verbal and non-verbal elements: machines, images and sounds, uses, concepts. Machines have to be studied for the “implicit conceptual structure” (Guillerme and Sebestik) they embody, as well as for the variety of uses in which they partake. This variety is strongly oriented by cultural, social, historical and geopolitical differences. As I have argued in Inventer le cinema. Épistémologie: problèmes, machines, the specific unity of those machines and uses can be perceived with the concept of problem: which exact problem is each specific “digital cinema” apparatus supposed to solve? Is there an overall problem that would define the general digital episteme?
The users’ gestures, the forms of the devices and the images produced are thus strongly linked in a way that only an epistemology of apparatuses can describe. The understanding of those non-verbal elements has then to be confronted with discourses and concepts, whether those used in the field or those used for the scientific description of the problems involved.
The project also aims at defocusing the study of digital media from a model too often and too deeply rooted in the analysis of the mainstream Western film production. This project argues that the main transformations involved by the digital transition cannot be understood, in the cinema, from an “analog film vs. CGI” perspective. This opposition should rather be complicated by a focus on independent/non-CGI-based film production, documentary and experimental filmmaking, animation, art installations, non-commercial cinema, and more generally the variety of uses known outside of Western industrial film culture, as well as the connected media cultures (photography, music, games, etc.).
The epistemological approach should in turn lead us to reconstruct the reasons why the digital turn has been massively perceived, in Film and Media Studies as a discipline, in such a framework.