This is my learning log for the OCA Ditigal Photographic Practice course

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Reading –The Digital Eye - Art in the Electronic Age

This book, written by Sylvia Wolf, is not on the reading list for the course but I thought I would take a look at it and have made a few notes below.
Digital photography is the latest in a long line of continuing technological innovations, but out of all proportion to that which has gone before, in scale and scope. The impact of the variety and number of devices now available for making, reproducing, altering and disseminating images is vast and widespread.
In the introduction the author asks several questions:
“Is it a medium in its own right, autonomous and separate from all photographic processes that have come before it, or is it another development in a long trajectory of technological innovations?”
“What impact does it have on how we view, understand and make photographic images”
Photography and representation: A historical perspective.
Photography’s relationship to the real:
1960’s Andre Bazin  photography does not create eternity as art does, it embalms time” (I detect an assertion the Bazin does not consider photography as art)
1981 Roland Barthes “Reference is the founding order of photography.” Again, there is a hint that Barthes considers photography to be an objective medium.
Alterations, collages, manipulation, all have been done before. Oscar J Rejlander’s “Two ways of life” is the most often quoted example having been assembled from 32 glass negatives. In the late 40’s, 50’s and up to the 1970’s the Polaroid system offered “instant” pictures, preceding the digital revolution and progressing Eastman’s “you press the shutter, we do the rest” 20th century revolution.
Art Photography in the Digital World – from the marriage of technological innovation and creative application came digital photography. It emerged from differing creative areas, medical research, video, textiles and photography. Artists took computer based imagery as a tool to develop their creative ideas. Wolf describes the work as belonging to three broad areas:
  • Socio-Political Commentary. I have included just one or two examples of the type of work for each of these areas. The book contains numerous examples. In this area Wolf cites the work done by Susan Meiselas (aka Kurdistan) and Lorie Novak (Collected Visions) to provide on-line forums for images to examine the the relationships between ourselves and our family photographs (Novak) and a forum away from the gaze of a repressive government (Meiselas).
  • Other Dimensions, other worlds. Isaac Layman, (Cabinet 2008) presented a view of how we experience the world, rather than a representation of a particular object, by re-photographing a stack of glasses on a shelf and refocusing each time to bring a different layer into focus, much the way in which our eyes and brain enable us to see a whole scene before us in focus all at once.
  • Reflections on the Medium Itself. Jon Haddock produced the “Children fleeing Napalm strike, Modified – 1972, Huynk Cong “Nick” Ut (2009) by erasing the children from the frame and forcing us to recall the full image from our collective visual memories. In a more bizarre example, he has produced a grid of the digital values of the RGB plot a frame of the film of the assassination of John F Kennedy. Such techniques demonstrate new aspects of the world that has been opened up in the artist’s imagination, providing a unique vision.
Returning to the questions at the start of this review, I don’t think that digital photography is a medium in its own right. It may have seemed that way in the 90’s but is no longer the case as it has become so widely accepted. It has also subsumed and absorbed analogue photography, with digital technology becoming the servant of analogue in some instances. The impact on how we view, understand and make images has always evolved and will continue to do so.

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