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digital, digital image, film

the digital image

January 27, 2019

A common argument in photographic theory is that the triumph of the digital image as the contemporary form of photography forces a reevaluation of the traditional assumption of correspondence between the image and some form of reality of which it is said to be an imprint.   The argument is that digital  images that begin their life as binary data and are  driven  by algorithms  cannot be comprehended through the conventional  trinity of representation, the index and the punctum.  A major shift has taken place with the emergence of the networked image.

As a photographer I understand  the digital image to be an evolution from analogue photography: to all intents and purposes a digital image made with a digital camera  is  little different to the one that is made with an analogue camera.  I situate myself in the world in the act of photographing,  and  then I use these  working tools to construct visual representations. The  Sony a7R111 digital camera is an automated,   computational and pre-programmed tool compared to  the entirely manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera that was made in the 1970s.   The trajectory  in digital photography is towards the expensive professional high end. This  means  increased  automation,   a pre-programmed apparatus,  and more and more AI being built into the post processing software in order to  counter the competition from the increasingly sophisticated cameras in  smart phones.

Here is a digital image made with a digital Sony-a7 R111 camera:

quartz, am

Here is the analogue photograph   made with  the all manual  Leica M 4-P analogue camera.  The negative  has been scanned into a digital file and then processed in Lightroom.

The differences between the two technologies within this  logic of representation are minimal  when they are viewed on a computer screen after being edited with Lightroom software.  The object —ie., the quartz  and creek in the two images –is known to us as a representation of the object.  Photography is a process that mediates the world with the agency of light to produce legible images.  

From my perspective as a working photographer the main difference between the two technologies is evolutionary. The digital technology is more convenient to use  and  it offers greater flexibility  for  hand held photograph in low light situations–eg., at dawn.   As a photographer I continue to work within the trinity of representation, the index and the punctum, with both digital and analogue cameras.   However,   I do  realise that the image on the computer screen  made with a digital camera resembles the look of a traditional photograph  because the computational processes are currently designed by the manufacturers  to make these data packages look familiar to those working within the photograhic tradition.

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