[ED: Nearly all of the text in this post is taken from R. Gerald Nelson's independently published, occasionally problematic but more often brilliantly concise treatise DDDDoomed. Anyone concerned with issues of and methods pertaining to digital image dissemination, authorship and context should make an effort to purchase and read this chapbook. I cannot recommend it enough.]
"With new blogs springing up every day, beautiful images & words are springing up with them. I try to credit everything I put on this blog. I know sometimes I fail. Many of the images I feature are scanned by me from an extensive library- I only scanned them. They are not mine to claim. I am always surprised, amused, dismayed when I see bloggers paste watermark images over images they have scanned, or even more surprising- claim ownership of images from magazines, the content of magazines barely having even reached subscribers- by adding footnotes to their blogs like:
All content, photos, images and text are the property of ___ unless credited. Nothing shall be copied, altered, or reused in any way without.... (Many times these images are not credited)
I appreciate another blogger noting an image was found on my blog when they use it on their own. It isn't something I expect. I cannot worry over an image I have scanned- when one does that it is part of the catalog of Internet images- Simple fact. Better to credit the artist-painter or photographer than to credit a blog-I think. Photographers are in the cross hairs of this boon. The art they render is becoming no more than a paper airplane. We as bloggers should all be more conscientious about this, at least make the effort to note the artist whose work you are literally pasting in as your content." 
Somewhere along the way, image aggregators1 (or, as they would’ve insisted: “image curators”) went astray. Or maybe it was that they never found the path to go astray from in the first place and were always doomed.
They defined their collectomania as art. The art of what? They seemed to think that their art, in posting a barrage of truly luscious images on the Internet, involved “explain[ing] in a new way the world unknown to you.”2 The problem was that those luscious images were just that, and nothing else. Just pretty pixels. No content, contextual indicators, knowledge, or anything of real intelligible value could be gleaned from the IA’s contributions to the World Wide Web—and that’s the way they intended it!
Those who curate … also comment … ; they evaluate, and thus it is indispensable that collectors know the background of their objects. Only that can ensure that an artifact torn out of its context can later be placed back into a context appropriate to its content—or quite deliberately decontextualized, with the goal of generating new hypotheses.3
That’s what Chrtistian Brandle had to say about the matter of collecting for the purpose of exhibition, albeit as it pertains to the museum. Yet, had only Brandle’s perfectly logical (and applicable ) statement been adapted (or, even been suggested to be adapted) as, say, the driving ethos behind FFFFound!,4 one can’t help but wonder: How many less empty contributions and wanna-be image curators would there have been? But surely, even mild, well-meaning suggestions such as this one, via a concerned few, that someone imbue some meaning and intellectual value into IA websites would’ve prompted legions of lackadaisical surfers to counter the best way they knew how. They would’ve effortlessly clicked their little “like” and “reblog” buttons in response to some viral image, posted by some anonymous, reactionary IA supporter on his Tumblr blog, of some skinny, half-naked, tousled-haired Brooklyn-girl shot by Terry Richardson and wearing a screen-printed t-shirt emblazoned with some snarky referential one-liner like “I FFFFind Therefore I Am.”
1: Throughout the entirety of this text, when necessary, and in order to avoid redundancy and the occasional elongated sentence, the term “image aggregator” will be referred to by the acronym “IA.”
2: Dziga Vertov, quoted in John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Peguin Books, 1972), 17.
3: Christian Brandle, “Every Thing Design,” in Every Thing Design, ed. Christian Brandle and Verena Formanek (Ostfildern, DE: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009), 202.
4: “FFFFound! is a web service that not only allows the users to post and share their favorite images found on the web, but also dynamically recommends each user’s tastes and interests for an inspirational image-bookmarking experience!” See FFFFound!, “About FFFFound!,” ffffound.com/about.
At the height of an IA’s regard of their activities as being more closely related to that of the art curator or collector’s (even going as far as to claim their activities a work of art in and of itself), it became evident that the IA had much more in common with the wealthy collector of Renaissance painting than with the visual anthropologist out to record our cultures.12
Berger, by way of the observations of Claude Levi-Strauss, helped to make this analogy clear—that, much like the wealthy collector of Renaissance painting, the IA’s collection of digital imagery came to represent “how a collection of paintings [or, I n this case, digital images] can confirm the pride and amour-propre of the collector.” As Levi-Strauss pointed out, “painting was perhaps an instrument of knowledge but it was also an instrument of possession” and that “in Florence and elsewhere, … rich Italian merchants looked upon painters as agents, who allowed them to confirm their possession of all that was beautiful and desirable in the world.”13 Likely to their own regret (or so I hope,) like the many rich Italian merchants long before them, many IAs likewise chose to use their collected images as “instrument[s] of possession” rather than “instrument[s] of knowledge.” The fundamental difference was that the IA’s possessions, while still defined by their relative materiality, were not physical in nature. Instead, in relaying upon photographers and Internet image producers as their agents, IAs (with their “rich” collection of images) apparently possessed what was commonly referred to as having keen awarenesses for so-called relevant styles and certain esoteric cultural artifacts of a digital nature.
12: In fact, based on what I could gather from the situation, it had always seemed as though the IA had falsely come to believe that they were on some anthropological mission from an imaginary Internet oracle to present the treasures of our visual online world.
13: Berger, Ways of Seeing, 86
One IA collection that most epitomized the “pride and amour-propre” of its collector was that of JJJJound. A pure “engine of spectacle,” Justin R Saunders’ creation was one of a select number of IA websites to single-handedly pave the way for a young and Internet-reliant culture’s collective disinterest in even the most essential content of an image.
The blog posts will have no titles.
The photos will be random
No text either.
Just great photos.
(BTW, this is going to be your favorite blog)14
As this, the “philosophy” behind JJJJound, made it clear, Saunders’ unapologetic approach of distributing content-less (better yet: soul-less) images most certainly solidified his position as a proclaimer (and also a purveyor) of material possessions and an underminer of essential knowledge.
Before long, many IA websites (see: Tumblr) were following suit and a host of others were caught in the web of digital triviality and shallowness so well endorsed by Saunders. Arkitip Intel, for example, then clearly entranced by Saunders’ irrelevant pixel play on JJJJound, introduced him as of their newest “Reporters,” having “an impeccable eye for style, detail and aesthetics and the talent of tasteful arrangement … .”15
Opinions being what they are, it’s worth noting that what a few deemed as a “talent [for] tasteful arrangement,” a large many interpreted as the purposeful disorganization (and, just as often, total removal) of an image’s content and context as well as the aimless and excessive aestheticization of images that were otherwise fascinating in their own right.
What became so evident to many was that IAs (especially Saunders) were capitalizing only on the aesthetically engaging qualities of imagery circulation online—their activities, increasingly, and eventually completely, dismissed an image’s history and its essential identifying information.16 IAs—many of whom posed as the Internet’s visually literate authority on the collection and exhibition of engaging images—would, because of the frequency and volume with which they posted their disparate images, become trusted sources for the observation and distribution of the online world’s most culturally and trend rich material. In this sense, IAs, having convinced many of their supposed significance, began to realize their intent to acquire and eventually sell back their, what I’ve referred to as, hipster capital. Not unlike cultural capital, hipster capital also refers to the non-financial social assets that one may acquire in association with their activities.17 Assets, as they pertain to the IA, such as ones ability to identify and (re)distribute (i.e., “reblog”) images that are representative of certain popular, ironic, yet obscure trends and styles.
14: Justin R Saunders, JJJJound, jjjjound.com.
15: Arkitip Studio, “Justin R. Saunders,” Arkitip Intel (2010), arkitipintel.com/?s=Justin+R.+Saunders.
16: See also, other much-emulated IA websites, created in a similar vein to JJJJound, such as Yimmy's Yayo (blog.yimmyayo.com) and Haw-lin (haw-lin.com).
17: “The term cultural capital refers to non-financial social assets, for example educational or intellectual, which might promote social mobility beyond economic means.” See Wikipedia, “Cultural capital,” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/cultural_capital (accessed September 17, 2010)
Whether a collection of images exists in physical form within a museum or virtually on the Internet; weather it is heavily curated according to some infallible classificatory logic or arbitrarily assembled according to one’s supposed aesthetic intuition; or whether it is directed by a respected artist or an amateur online image aggregator; that collection of images—as a figurative apparatus that is dependant upon each of its mechanisms (i.e., its images) and that is viewed objectively and separate of its maker’s agenda(s)—always still expresses or reveals a rich multiplicity of ideas, insights, cultural revelations, etc. I prefer to define this as the collection’s symbolic value.
Though what had be revealed during the rise in popularity of the IA website was that IAs were alarmingly unyielding to both the importance of the images themselves as well as to the collection’s symbolic value and, as such, were much more interested in solidifying their own authorial claims on the selection and arrangement of images that were, in most cases, never their own to begin with.
What these authorial inclinations hinted at was that a majority of IAs—regardless of the fact that every image within the IA’s collection was already broadcasting its own singularly unique perspective through the eyes of those who initially created those images—were vehemently in pursuit of becoming recognized (in the way that a photographer or filmmaker is similarly recognized) for their single spectator perspective (i.e., their “signature”).
In other words, IAs—in not allowing a collection of images to express all of the virtue that it is intrinsically capable of expressing on its own—were exalting their own individual perspective as definitive and as one not to be outshined by the “lesser” perspectives of the images that they were exploiting.
By devaluing each image’s potency as an autonomous object, IAs were effectively exaggerating the worth of their role by convincing the viewers of their websites that their assembled collection—as a whole which fails to properly recognize any of its content parts—was, paradoxically, to be the object of spectacle.
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE FIRST IMAGE [SCREEN GRAB TAKEN FROM FFFFOUND, ORIGINAL WORK BY PETER GARFIELD], THE ORIGINAL IMAGES IN QUESTION HERE ARE OF PHILIP CRANGI IN THE BELVEDERE GUEST HOUSE FOR MEN, AND WERE TAKEN BY KT AULETA FOR PIN-UP ISSUE 7, FALL/WINTER 09/10 AND ORIGINALLY POSTED HERE.
ALL SCREEN GRABS IN THIS POST SOURCED VIA TRAFFIC ANALYSIS AND CITED WITHIN EACH IMAGE; TEXT TAKEN FROM "THE AUDACITY OF NAUGHT", LITTLE AUGURY, 1.9.2011 ; ALL OTHER TEXT TAKEN FROM DDDDOOMED: OR, COLLECTORS & CURATORS OF THE IMAGE--A BRIEF FUTURE HISTORY OF THE IMAGE AGGREGATOR, R. GERALD NELSON, EDITION M K, 2010; "CREDIT IN THE STRAIGHT WORLD" BY YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS, FROM THE ALBUM COLOSSAL YOUTH