In this post on the Leica Poeticsblog I referred to Wim Wenders view about the shifting ground of the photographic medium (as the single, static image). So what has happened to photography with networked computing? Wenders held that photography is dead and that we need to find a new term for the digital photography in our contemporary visual culture. Digital images in this culture are images that are co-constituted with software; are networked; are driven by algorithmic analysis of the vast banks of images collated by social media platforms that are profit-driven; whilst seeing is now platform or screen seeing. Now we hav generative AI, which produces text and images in abundance, and soon, music and video, too. As James Vincent of The Vergesays the dynamics of AI is producing cheap content (AI junk) based on others’ work through scraping their content.
We are a long way from the photography and ways of seeing of the Bowden Archives and Industrial Modernity project of the late twentieth century that finished in the 1990s. The images produced by this analogue photography has been replaced by the automated processes of algorithms, data flow, big data and social networking. So we need to unthink photography; or more specifically unthink the ontology and culture of the analogue photography in the Bowden Archives, Mallee Routes or my large format photography, now that the historical period of the mechanical analogue has passed.
This representational kind of photography in the age of the computational mode of image production is redundant, whilst still exerting an influence as an after-life. It is an obsolete medium, one which refuses to die, that has become a historical medium of heritage.
Two quick observations about recent trends in photography.
Firstly, the euphoria and excitement that came in with the boom in photography in the 1970s-80s isn’t really at the core of art photography now. The social context of photography is social media; social media has actually created and defined the form of art photography and I think, unfortunately, that takes it down the narcissistic route. art photography doesn’t have the importance it once had, and that’s been the case for quite a while. It’s become a facet of social media. Reading photographs consists of people glancing at the work in 10 seconds –instant consumption on literally everything.
Secondly, there is the dramatic decline in camera sales. An example:
We are seeing more declines in 2020, partly due to the pandemic but in reality, this was coming regardless of the Covid 19 pandemic. The virus has caused these decline in sales to fall at a faster rate. The future is one of fewer camera bodies being made and price increases across the board– less demand, less sales, lower profits. The dedicated digital cameras today are already a niche and they are already there due to smartphones. Not all manufacturers will survive as there are not enough people buying cameras to sustain them all.
In this post on the Mallee Routes blog I mentioned the lack of critical writing about local exhibitions in Adelaide and the crisis of independent writing about art in general. An associated problem emerges from the art gallery existing in a digital economy due to the gallery usually having a minimal online presence; a minimal presence that is especially noticeable with respect to their exhibitions. The current Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery is a case in point.
The standard convention is that there is just the odd image from an exhibition online which is primarily used to market the exhibition to the public. This means that an online viewer, in say another state, is unable to gain a sense of, or assess, the exhibition. Secondly, there is little to no engagement, dialogue or conversation with the gallery’s online audience about their exhibitions. This, in turn, means that an exhibition has a limited reach and presence. It’s here today, seen by few, and forgotten tomorrow, unless it is reviewed or there is an exhibition catalogue. The latter only happens to the mega exhibitions of superstars or global artists working in the biennial culture.
The art gallery’s low digital presence provides an entry point into a problematic about how the nature of photography is changing and the significance of these changes. We can begin to explore this through looking at the functioning of the art gallery in a digital economy. Firstly, the gallery continues its role of curating and collecting photography; a role that is designed to sort the image s to incorporate into the canon through the separation of photography as art and not-art. However, in continuing to champion photography as an art form, the curators downplay photography’s role as a reproductive technology in order to emphasise the creative legitimacy of the photographer who pressed the shutter.
Secondly, art galleries continue to rely on foot traffic to view the staging of a contemporary photograph exhibition in the white cube, grounded in aesthetic modernism. It does appear that the curators in the art galleries currently see digital technologies as either a new tool for artists to express themselves, or as a channel for communications and marketing through which new audiences can be targeted and captured. This approach to digital technology excludes is photography’s diffusion into general computing in a digital economy.
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:
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.
I really do struggle with my landscape photography in and around Encounter Bay on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia, even though I do a lot of scoping for it. I struggle in the sense of having both a lots of doubts the value of this working and a lack of confidence in what I am doing —with both the coastal work and the roadside vegetation. So I don’t get very far with working the Fleurieuscapes project as I am not sure what I am doing with it.
I only have confidence in the abstraction side of this photographic project. The work process is now routine and I am quite comfortable with it. I make a digital study of the object, sometimes convert the colour digital file to a black and white one, and then spend some time assessing the image for possibilities for a 5×4 photo session. Is it worth doing? If so, what is the best way to approach this? This is an example of the work process –some granite rocks on the beach at Petrel Cove.
granite study for 5×4
I have sat on this image for a couple of months at least. In fact I scoped it a year ago and I’d left it sitting on the computer. I re-scopped it earlier this year when I was walking around exploring Petrel Cove whilst on a poodlewalk. I remembered that I had previously photographed this bit of rock and that I wasn’t happy with what I had done, but I had thought that it had possibilities for a black and white 5×4 photoshoot using the baby Sinar (F2). So I re-scoped it. Continue Reading…