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In her “In Defense of the Poor Image,” Hito Steyerl documents the rise of the “poor image” – the mass-circulated, reedited, low resolution copy of an original image, warped by the sensitivity of internet connection and loaded with digital debris. For Seyerl, the poor image represents the liberation of the original from the shackles of the filmic medium and into the “digital uncertainty” of circulation, forsaking image quality for streaming speed. In this respect, the “poor image” represents the antithesis to the quest for medium refinement and higher resolution images in modern cinema, breaking free from the constraints of the physical medium and entering into a system of exchange, further degrading itself with every reedit and reupload.


While reading Seyerl’s essay, I couldn’t help but find myself feeling oddly nostalgic, remembering a childhood spent viewing poor images, downloading misspelled files, using intimidatingly complex video clients overrun with pop-ups to play television show clips so grainy that, as Seyerl writes, “one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all.” Indeed, I realized that Seyerl’s essay resonated with me so strongly because I myself am a member of the “poor image” generation, the generation of Limewire and Norton Antivirus, a time when Internet connection was fast enough to download content but the proper vehicles for that content had yet to be realized, resulting in a bustling economy of “poor images” on file sharing sites. Looking back, I am often amazed at the low resolution of video that I deemed “acceptable” for viewing; having no other access to these videos and images and having grown accustomed to the aesthetics of the “poor image” – the misspelled file names, the edited-in subtitles, the constant pop-ups, and the atrocious image quality – these negative qualities became just another natural part of the image to me.