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 The images produced by this analogue photography has been replaced by the automated processes of algorithms, data flow, big data and social networking.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.
I am in the process of working on a third newsletter and the third online exhibition, which is one on abstractions in photography. I am a bit behind schedule due to Light Paths.
Light Paths is currently under construction. It is a community orientated website for art photographers in South Australia. It is currently in ‘coming soon’ mode, but it should ‘go live’ sometime during October. It is premised around the idea of encouraging art photographers to publish their work in progress re the current project they are working on (initially on the blog and then in a gallery); to go on 2 field trips per year; and to have an annual exhibition based on the work produced on and around those field trips.
The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to my planned travels to both Lorne and the Great Otway National Park with the Friends of Photography Group in April, and to Melbourne’s CBD to continue working on the drossscape project with Stuart Murdoch in June. I found it astounding that a neo-liberal government committed to austerity and financial orthodoxy locked down whole sections of economic activity knowing that this turn to public health restrictions meant jumping over the cliff edge of the sharpest recession in modern history.
Melbourne has become a no go destination due to the city becoming a hotspot with an outbreak of community transmission in a number of suburbs; those areas in Melbourne with high rates of household overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and financial hardship. A crucial source for the community transmission of Covid-19 was the security guard fiasco at the Melbourne quarantine hotels for those Australians returning from being overseas. The public health response to the failures in hotel quarantine infection control protocols was to reimpose restrictions on family and outdoor gatherings; a widespread testing blitz in the hotspot suburbs assisted by Australian defence force personnel; then a stage three lockdown of Melbourne itself.
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.