Placing “Augusta”: Index, Tags & Findability
by Heidi Rae Cooley — University of South Carolina
March 04, 2009 – 12:04
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Amateur filmmaker Scott Nixon amassed over 26,000 feet of film documenting five decades of travel across the United States. The films tend to include shots of signs and maps marking location. While this suggests a not surprising desire to catalogue for purposes of subsequent recognition, Nixon’s insistent appreciation of signs as visual objects exceeds the merely functional requirement of recall. In this respect, his compilation film of the various places in the US named “Augusta” holds particular interest. Nixon edits no fewer than 36 disparate locations and scenes into a 10-minute montage of Augustas indentifed by signage, intertitle, or map. Whereas all other reels in Nixon’s collection resemble more typical home movie travelogues in their depiction of particular trips, “The Augustas” is arranged according to the logic of series and recombination.
In its employment of this logic, “The Augustas” recalls current practices of uploading images to photo-sharing websites (Flickr, for example), which involve tagging them with keyword identifiers—including “augusta.” What seems an anomalous device for the analog film reel—the organization of images by means of keyword—becomes a defining characteristic of digital, mobile-imaging streams. As a metadata tag, “augusta” allows images to be found and related to other similarly tagged images, quite apart from whether we would otherwise recognize Augusta in those images themselves.
We might then ask: what does it mean to find Augusta in either medium? Does Flickr alter the relationship between the image, place, and “tag” when it automates the index term as metadata? Furthermore, what exactly is found when one searches for “Augusta” in either form of representation? In both forms arguably, but very clearly in the case of Flickr, Augusta makes possible comparisons that have nothing to do with specifying location. How do we contend with the consequent paradox: that finding Augusta locates it nowhere in particular? What might this image-place-tag relationship mean for modern governmentality, which requires that persons be locatable within territories and populations?