The image surplus of the 21st-century directly maps a crisis of critical new ideas, as well a social shift away from confronting economic, environmental and political consequences. Today, in the economy of images, exchange is the formal determinant of a distracting means of re-production. In an age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, photography is a form of both abstract labour and enjoyment. While we usually consider photographs to be equivalents of a diverse number of things – when they show our faces, our sunsets, our favourite food, our pets, our holidays and our celebrations – ultimately they fail to maintain this assertion, under even minor scrutiny. What if photography contains within it the capacity to be more than a representation of some thing or other? Would this not provide a radical re-reading of photography and a means to reimagine the structures of capital? In other words, to engage with photography as a way of thinking allows us to begin to rephrase the discourses of production and exchange.

Following Marx’s formula of commodity-money-commodity I suggest there is a process of experience-image-experience, when an experience is photographed. I argue that in the digital world we are undergoing an inverted shift to image-experience-image. This occurs when the creation of images becomes the primary aim and objective. In this new formula, image becomes more than image: it is the mediation of experience into something incrementally excessive of simply image and becomes a new means for a different mode of production.

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Hillman, J., 2018. Surplus-Value: Surplus Image. Open Library of Humanities, 4(1), p.34. DOI: