Coded Portraits: Policing Images from the 1500s to Today
– Gray Area Festival Workshop

Or log in to access your purchased courses

Coded Portraits: Policing Images from the 1500s to Today
– Gray Area Festival Workshop

Mass media revolution follows the lead of a double-edged sword, from the first distributed photographs to the internet as we know it today. On one hand, shareable media has been financed by the pursuit of pornography. On the other, those same images have been used to populate taxonomies of criminalization and control. What commercial sex innovates, institutions of power use to eradicate, producing both the technology and its content to make evidence of this criminality possible. In today’s user-generated media revolution, can we dream of reclaiming our digital selves from the current technologies designed to police them?

This two part session will give students the knowledge and tools to address the complexities of image policing. Part one (facilitated by Gabriella Garcia) will cover the historical counter/discourses of the “erotic engine” from beginning of reproductive surveillance in the 1500s to today. Part two (facilitated by Livia Foldes) will guide students through “Coded Portraits”, a no-code framework for understanding and subverting the aesthetics and politics of automated recognition.

This workshop is part of the Gray Area Festival 2022: Distant Early Warnings, and the C/Change Initiative.

Now in its 8th year, this year’s Gray Area Festival partners with the McLuhan Institute to explore artistic practice as an important sensing agent in a world of rapidly evolving media and technology. Building off work by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who in 1964 compared artists to Cold War–era distant early warning systems which were designed to raise alarms at signs of impending nuclear catastrophe, this festival stakes a role for arts and technology experimentation as a critical research & development department for society.

C/Change is a joint initiative by Goethe-Institut San Francisco and Gray Area, exploring ways emerging technologies can shape and support digital cultural exchange.

Course Logistics

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Gray Area
2665 Mission Street
San Francisco

3PM – 6PM

$20 – We also offer Diversity Scholarships, find out more and apply here

Experience level:
No coding skills necessary.

Course Requirements:
Please come prepared with an image you would like to analyze in the workshop.
Bring a laptop. Students will be asked to email an image to be printed for the workshop. All other materials will be provided.

Course Outline

– Introductions
– Lecture
– Break
– “Coded Portraits” no-code workshop
– Post-session check in

About Technologies

Using widely available, no-code tools, we will open the black box of automated image moderation to see what happens when machines analyze the images we post online.


Gabriella Garcia (she/her, higabriella.com) is a researcher, performer, and poetic technologist. Her work explores the protection of radical self-expression, networked subcultures, and cybernetic intimacy. As co-founder and director of Decoding Stigma, she works toward prioritizing sexual autonomy as a necessary ethics question for futurists. This is an extension of her thesis research and postdoctoral fellowship at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which explored how whorephobia becomes encoded in tech design, despite the historically co-constitutive relationship between sexual labor and the development of digital media.

Livia Foldes (she/her) works in the latent space between art, design, technology, and activism to interrogate and reimagine technologies of intimacy and control. As Decoding Stigma’s co-founder and creative director, she brings grassroots research and radical theory to accessible platforms through playful, subversive imagery. She holds an MFA from Parsons School of Design in Design and Technology, and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Decoding Stigma is a collective working to prioritize sexual autonomy as a necessary ethics question for futurists. As co-founders, we lead an interdisciplinary mix of folk across tech, design, law, public health, gender studies, computer science, anthropology and clinical social work, meeting regularly to deconstruct and regenerate the relationship between sex and tech. Ultimately, Decoding Stigma calls for the inclusion and leadership of sex worker voices in all spaces that purport to be designing our future, so that the lived experience of sex workers becomes a litmus test for society—because when sex workers are safe, many others are too.