Images and Compression

To what degree are the images on a computer screen similar to or different from the images on a film screen? What do compression technologies do to conventional notions of information and image? This is a fascinating issue, since compression is actually about the reduction of information and the removal through an algorithmic process of those elements of an image that are deemed to be less important than others. The more compressed, the more that is missing, as data is eliminated or colors removed. The reduction is invisible to the human eye, but tell that to the image-creator who has worked hard to place ‘content’ in a particular way in a series of images and for whom every aesthetic change is potentially a transformation of the original intent.


Compression technologies like MPEG-4 are designed to facilitate the communications of images that are used in games, mobile multi-media, streaming video and digital television. This means that nearly all aspects of the future use of images will employ some form of compression, which is distinctly different from the analogue properties of screen-based environments. Compression is but one feature of the many subtle transformations that are taking place in the communication of images. More importantly, these transformations are also about a shift in the ways in which meaning is constructed within digital media. There is a difference between compressed and non-compressed images. It may well be that compression as a process is the single most important characteristic of digital images and what distinguishes the digital from the analogue.