Subject: digital & the making of images

We live in a world where digital transmissions of images and ideas are only eclipsed in quickness by the changing of the very technology itself and its effects on our society.  We seem momentarily remiss of a cumulative history while we capture with a digital ferocity every current changing element of our own very-now life.  Thousands of digital photographs live and breathe on our tiny hand-held cameras. Thousands.  And thousands which will never see the form as “printed photograph” in which to record history.  It is all a digital blur which will change the next time we “load our cameras”. 

ben tree

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The quickness of a ten year old’s hand and mind as he moves the mouse to edit a photo that he took of a tree against the sky from his own backyard is the subject.  The photo, in origin, having the tree a bit out of focus, transforms itself from an “okay” photograph taken by a child to an exposition of technical facility by this very same child who downloads it and edits it and crops it and saves it to his file.  This action changes everything. 

All of a sudden the idea of a “good photo” precedes documentation of both tree and sky, trial and error, and the focus shifts to the child’s ability to use the computer skills he has mysteriously acquired in order to “technically adjust” his photo.  The photo then begins to talk about the incredible facility this ten year old has already assumed in his role as “photographer”, as seer, as observer, as “maker of images” , and most amazingly, as technician:  a child responding to the availability of a digital world before him.  

The actual (original) photo of the sky, or the tree, may never see the light of day again, but that’s okay.  The art is not in the printed photo, but in the observation of, and extension of this newfound facility. 

In looking at a child’s activity of photographing a tree against the sky — what is the significance of [our] attempts to capture something with our cameras and then somehow [given technology] be able to then ‘fix it’ later ?   The photo as documentation of the actual world becomes secondary to the activity of manipulating it to a preconceived liking. 

Where does this process of alteration come from, and where does the actual tree fall in all of this, and why, in the end, [upon reflection of both the ‘tangible’ digital picture and method of technical facility ] did we stop to take a photo of [a] tree to begin with?  Do we applaud the visual given us (in the form of a photo of a tree against a sky) or do we applaud the facility which got us there?  What is it that we are actually taking a picture of ?

April  2016

3 thoughts on “Subject: digital & the making of images

  1. This makes me think of the days when my children were barely old enough to hold a camera but we let them use it anyway. Most of the pictures they took were of their feet or a blurry action photo but once in a while there was a flash of brilliance. Probably because I loved my kids and wanted to believe that they were perfect in everything that they did.The point was, it was their photo and it was their interpretation of what they saw. I wouldn’t ever think to change it using a computer program. The fact that photographs can be digitally changed to fit what we believe is an acceptable picture makes me sad. Art is something different and beautiful to everyone and to homogenize it with what the public thinks it should be, is denying art in its truest form.

    When George Lucas digitally changed the original Star Wars films he changed my recollection of how they were viewed by me as a younger person and in turn changed part of my childhood. HAN SHOT FIRST!!!
    I am not afraid of change and I welcome any new technology to enhance Art as a whole but it should not be used to change my views of what Art means to me.

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  2. My opinion is that photo-shopping digital photos is not art, at least not in the traditional sense of photographic art. Essentially it is a trial and error process that anyone can do, sure the more you do it the more likely you are to learn the intricacies of photo-shopping, other than time what have you spent creating the photo-shopped picture. Using software to produce something does not make one a photographer. Before digital photographs and software to manipulate them, photographers had to figure out, prior to taking a photo, the amount of ambient/natural light, (the so called “the golden hours”) which lenses to use, the exposure, format, filters, color range, position, framing, etc. And get the perfect combination of those in order to create the ultimate picture. They couldn’t just shoot and hope for the best. To leave it to trial and error or dumb luck would be a waste of their time, effort and money as they’d develop potentially 100’s even 1000’s of photos in order to get maybe 1, (lucky), great picture. When you talk about photographic artists you need look no further than Ansel Adams, Dorthea Lange and Eliot Porter. Sure they could play around in the darkroom when developing photos to try and improve on the original negative, but their goal was to have the perfect shot and then just develop the negative as is. And to be honest, I don’t think any digital photograph enhancement tool could replicate what those, and other, photographers did

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  3. “What is it that we are actually taking a picture of?” Your question is even more important to the older image-taker, such as a college student, who might possess better analytic capabilities. The French writer Roland Barthes claimed that a “good” image only appears to be neutral. It is a code that is an invisible authority, a false naturalism that fools us into seeing the thing for what it is not. In this way Barthes also gave the “good” a bourgeois class distinction. Understanding this authority is akin to unmasking the artful machinations of a political campaign.

    Technology allows us to invisibly “improve” the digital capture of an object–to adjust its visual characteristics into the mirage of perfection or the “good.” We have already seen how the bodies of female models have been remade to reflect this invisible authority. The mastering of Photoshop and other digital tools of image manipulation are among those concrete “skills” taught in colleges and art schools. They are easily transferrable to the so-called real life jobs that produce the “good” proliferated by advertising, design, and commercial photography. It even seeps into fine art these days.

    I remember a quote in a Hartford Art School catalogue from photographer Harry Callahan: “the only rule in photography is that you have to be good.” In the context of official institutional propaganda, the mere assertion of the presence of the code is all we need. This sound bite is really quite dumb, and too philosophically abstract for most artist-professors to intelligently explain. But if they can teach the “good” it will usually be through a set of hard technical skills and visual tropes that are supported by a devotion to keeping the code intact. While the vaguely eternal and ethical quality of the “good” indeed feels good, it perpetuates a notion that the photo itself may not matter at all, or that the photo is simply a site for improving upon what it is derived from. Some teachers and students (of Barthes, etc.) however learn to unmask the code, to track its evolution, critique and reveal it. They know what the ten-year old child intuitively understands: that their drawings of a tree are as symbolic and manipulated as their digital captures.

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