Glitch: inside one of this year's key photography trends

As an exhibition of Glitch images opens in London, curator Paul Foster from Getty Images explores why we're drawn to the digitally imperfect.


Lauching tonight, Glitch is an exhibition of both accidentally and artistically 'broken' images, taken from Getty Images' collection of stock photos. Here the curator, Getty's Paul Foster, discusses how the failures of technology bring a humanity to these images that's hard to find in perfect photography.

It’s an image of an uncanny landscape, recognizably rocky and sandy, but then there’s the hills of a place called the Taurus-Littrow Valley. It’s like any other unevenly exposed night-time photo taken by an amateur. But if it came up on your smartphone timeline you’d read 'December 1972'. The tourist, a science tourist, is 238,000 miles from home, and he is an astronaut on Apollo 17. Over 40 years later, in a culture of pervasive smartphone and social imagery, the mistake, the ‘fail’, the ‘Glitch’, is the currency of social media.

In 2014 the ‘Glitch’ aesthetic has become part of everyday social currency through photo-sharing. The smartphone images we take and send each day are often out-of-focus, badly framed, with content that presents everyday life as a series of abstracted forms, communication shortcuts – ‘here is my dinner’; ‘look at my feet’. And if the photo looks a little bit too professional don’t worry, there’s the smartphone software programmed to re-create the visual effect of ‘glitch’ such as lens flare. The ‘fail’ is so desirable we now have systems designed to perfect and simulate ‘glitch’.

Read on to learn more about the Glitch aesthetic trend. This image is courtesy of NASA, the others are from Getty's Glitch exhibition.

At a moment when our lives are supported by systems of technology designed to make work, personal, and social lives smooth and synchronized, there’s a vision of spontaneity and playfulness attached to the image of the ‘Glitch’. Contemporary ‘Glitch’, disturbance, is an unexpected ripple on slick digital surfaces.

The operationally smooth digital technology of our age, invisible when it works, is laid bare in ‘Glitch’ photography. The glitched image on a screen gives the sense of something material and tangible an image that is otherwise without physical depth.

In curating this show we have selected images that are either: genuine accidents; the results of crafted imperfection; or where the image-maker has deliberately introduced some element to the process that makes the outcome unpredictable.

‘Glitch’ is a vision of the unexpected. It’s an idea of serendipity, of the creative and experimental disrupting the smooth seductive unfolding of digital life.


This is a series of images that are the result of human error, or a lack of photographic skill, or pure accident. It’s a moment of uncertainty, an uncanny beauty, an image of something that feels very familiar but different.

In an age when image technology can deliver the kind of perfect image only previously available to the skilled professional, the accidental image captures the magical illusion of the photograph.

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Throughout the 20th Century error and accident has been the tool of artists exploring technology, the machine, media. The Art of Noise by Luigi Russolo, recognized as an antecedent of Glitch, wrote in 1913 of the epic sensory excitement of the metropolis.


There is a history of creative making that ‘Glitch’ has evolved from, not least William Burroughs’ and David Bowie’s methodology of the cut-up as way of experimenting with linear forms, introducing uncertainty into creative process and result.


In the art world, current interest in the idea of ‘Glitch’, is sometimes explored by playing with technological hardware that is dis-assembled, sometimes software is broken down, mashed, re-routed to be processed by the wrong algorithms or editors – sound files changed in picture editors and vice versa.

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In the art world, current interest in the idea of ‘Glitch’, is sometimes explored by playing with technological hardware that is dis-assembled, sometimes software is broken down, mashed, re-routed to be processed by the wrong algorithms or editors – sound files changed in picture editors and vice versa.

Getty's Glitch exhibition runs until October 11.