Contemporary Photography’s Response to Digital

cmyk

Forget the illusions of Surrealism and Realism and History Painting and Portrait Painting and Religious Painting and the Still-life.  There is nothing but the process here, the process of painting.

 

Like American painting of the 1940’s, Photography opens itself up to the gesture and visceral connections we (once) had with paint.  No illusion suffices when the darkroom magic no longer means anything, just as the representational after WWII proved meaningless.

When the photographer’s eye loses out to digital photography’s own technological magic, when any image, all images, made, taken, shown can be easily edited, cropped, and placed into any context, when this is the new norm, Photography readjusts.

 

The “eye” of the photographer – the ability to capture something from nature ‘as is’ – print full-frame – is no longer viable.  The prestige we once placed on the skill of the photographer’s eye has been replaced with the egalitarian ‘so can I’.  Photoshop toolbars are the new darkroom and access to it all exists no matter what level or claim.

 

The Everyman’s camera with digital grip on capturing every moment before us – because we can — must somehow be distanced from the art photographer working diligently at his/her craft.  Rather than a World War to diminish the significance of painting things from nature ……we have the ubiquity of Digital diluting the democratized pool of images we now all make with abandon.

 

It is no wonder that new work in Contemporary Photography is found returning to that of origin, and, with it, possibly, an aim for the retrieval of aura in the literally-pulled-from-the-negative; a move to discussing the process of Photography itself. The subject matter contemporary artists photograph now is imbued with the process of making one.  And, the subject matter photographed is likewise ensured of greater meaning because it is indeed, a (true) photo.  Artists photograph Photography now, leaving the task of recording sunsets and snapping in successive impulse the documenting of the everyday to the now incurable digital.

 

 

In the late 19th Century, Painting went through its own self-evaluative phase with the advent of the camera –its arrival on the scene challenging artists re-presenting likenesses on canvas.  If the camera can reproduce nature as it is, (and, much more directly) we painters must give the Nature we aim to imitate with our brushes and canvas another angle, another view.  Realistic portrayal is no longer the painter’s aim, but one of creating more of an impression of what we see (one which examines the Science of light and the study of refraction, saturation and hue) rather than what the artist has worked at for centuries to achieve.  The camera changes everything.

 

Today, Photography has been taken over by the dpi pixelation of image —  computer-generated and electronically processed without any gestural, personal touch or hand in the making other than the holding-at-arm’s-length distance (no longer eye pressed tightly peering through the closeness of the camera’s lens) one of the many electronic devices we carry around without distinction, and then, the tapping of a few remote keys on a keyboard while awaiting the contrast-adjusted screen resolution’s response.

 

With digital technology we can paint photos, make photos look like paintings, scan photos and print them as if paintings, photos, or, maybe, if we wish, both.  (There is even an app that can make an image photographed look as though a painting by Thomas Hart Benton!) The origin of source is rejected for the contrivance of cut and paste and digital manipulation.  The advantage of the eye in seeing something unique in the real world is overwhelmed by the savvy nature of the digital screen’s editing options offered at the touch of a distanced keystroke.  Darkroom pools of chemicals and physical film emulsions dipped and swirled and submerged and pulled are all part of the mystical past printed in sepia-toned nostalgia.  The capturing of the observable taken by our clunky cameras and then preserved in a photograph has been replaced by the ease and facility and access and uniformity of technology’s latest picture-taking app.

 

What then, can the artist who works in Photography do to maintain a level of artistic creation, freshness, scholarship, expertise, and, add to the discipline by contributing to the evolution of Photography in offering commentary on this phenomenon through one’s art, one’s own photographic work?  How does the artist comment upon this digital world and its competing role?  Where are the Impressionists of today and what are they doing to unite past history and our current ‘taking of pictures’?

 

The photographer’s image will now, always be measured against the new paradigm, the digital world’s offering — (in both quantity and kind); the photograph no longer able to carry itself just by virtue of “its being”.  “Is that digitally created?” is the context all photography now faces.  It no longer matters if it looks one way or another.  It is now about the viewing of such a thing amidst – and, how it reads now that technology has diluted [in its own nonchemical solution] Photography’s very origin, process and meaning.

 

 

2017

 

that venue for showing art

caa show announcement

Regarding the static painted visual art piece on a wall, or, the static sculpted object on a pedestal, what are we to read beyond the object’s own “art-object-ness” in a recycled environment of reference and quotation? Can the object we now make be successful at translating our meaning given its expected reception in a now seemingly all-too familiar field? Is the gallery context itself somehow inhibiting as it moves from exclusive space visited by students of art and other artists to the David Byrne familiar with Eric Fischl painting art’s own art-going morphology?

Is it like the phenomenon of digital accessibility —- with too much equaling too ordinary and expected for us to even blink an eye no matter the possible strength of the work residing? Can the static art object give us the reading it means to in its current context of “being art in a gallery”? or, have we become too savvy an audience, too familiar with how the system works for the art object itself to move beyond the space it relies upon for its translation?

Is Visual Art stuck in its own necessary replication, unable to move beyond the “look” of what we know art on a wall to be, to move beyond the entrenched orthodoxy of this look, this paradigm? Does the gallery space by default, due to our familiarity with it – create for the artist a space impossible for understanding the actual work?  Is our awareness of “looking at art” getting in the way?  Has our method of looking overwhelmed the actual art (if there is any) to be found?

Not unlike a Kafka character caught in truest dilemma, the balance for both lies between the method used (gallery space = traveling circus ) and, the very awareness of the method by both the artist (when placing work in such a prescribed space) and the viewer (upon experiencing that space).  Both require an isolation without self-awareness, and, given our method of viewing art – (which includes taking along our image-conscious selves), neither of these seems possible.

Sept.  2018

today’s realism and bowls of fruit drawn, painted

 

Apples with PLU - entry 1

  • Apples [w/ PLU Sticker] in Pewter Bowl : ( w/r/t the history of Still Life painting)  37” x 46” – Digital – inkjet collage – 2016

 

A realistically drawn apple may be read as the mastering of a skill in the field of representational drawing.  There are endless ways in which the drawing can be done:  varying materials, altering the approach in tackling formal qualities, playing with scale to name but a few.

 

The subject of an apple, or, bowl of fruit, allows for a connection with 2-dimensional art’s tradition, its history in both the academic “learning how to draw” and the prominent genre works found in painting.  This connecting to the past empowers the apple, the fruit as subject matter, referencing a linear progression comprising any true discipline or study which, in turn, genially accounts for its validity and, yes, its relevance.

 

Depending upon how “good” the drawn fruit is (honoring the laws of Realism) will determine the level of mastering.  The drawing becomes somewhat of a biographical sketch of where the artist is at the time in the advancement of a learned technical skill.  Like hitting the perfect note in music, the wows of the viewer are in response to the artist’s performance, the result of a practiced skill, the visual cue to an artist’s bettering this sought-after facility.  We are struck by the artist’s ongoing mastery of drawing something convincingly “real” on a 2-D surface.

 

In looking at a drawing of an apple or fruit Still-life made today, we might be asked to look at it not in terms of success or failure of a bench-marked realism, (our go-to assessment as viewers) but rather in terms of the choice of subject matter itself.  It is in the choosing to draw an apple, fruit bowl that is now our subject matter.  Not unlike our original choosing of the apple, the enactment, the act of drawing or painting is now our content.

 

The weight fruit carries today is not the same in origin, when introduced as subject as it was for Bruegel, Chardin, Courbet.  Our supermarket-stickered fruit reads far differently than the anonymous peasant apple-carting of a Bruegel, the bourgeoisie interior sitting-room of a Chardin, or the crumbling aristocracy of a Courbet.  Our fruit drawings or paintings hold all of these weighted meanings in reference and tribute which is now our subject.

 

In today’s world of the ease of digital rendering, and, an omnipresence of PLU- stickered fruit, the romantic notion of a fruit bowl set in golden-hued light on an elegantly arranged table seems foreign, out-of-date, remote, exotic.  The only connection to this is precedent, art’s own history’s role in continuity of subject for meaning.  We paint and draw fruit because we know painted and drawn fruit register as art.  Still-lifes are wonderful rendering workshops and tradition gives us the proverbial nod to go right ahead and draw the apple, so to speak.  Weight of subject matter is found with a nod from history and the enactment of the actual making.

 

The art part, if there is any to be found, might arise, for instance, from the enacted, the activity or ‘scene from a play’, [maybe Chekhov in spirit?] where the fruit bowl is set upon an old yet elegant gate-legged table, and a drawing is worked on by an actor on stage, the actual result never seen by the audience.

The fruit bowl need not be drawn or painted well, poorly, or … at all, even, for the visual prompt to our much larger subject matter is there, found in the reference to an acceptable academic art-making approach and made real by our artist’s set-up of easel and oils; and, our artist, maybe long-since disillusioned —- yet still searching for meaning in a palette of colors fully within physical reach, but, irretrievably lost to one’s failing eyesight or quickly closing memory.

 

May  2018

Language and its Evolution in the Advancing of a Digital Technology

“Electric circuitry profoundly involves men with one another.  Information pours upon us, instantaneously and continuously.  As soon as information is acquired, it is very rapidly replaced by still newer information.  Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition.  We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience co-exist in a state of active interplay.”1

Marshall McLuhan

1967 from”The Media is the Massage”

 

detail-from-mapping-arts-genome
detail from “mapping art’s genome”

 

 

Speech units or phonemes are represented by sign and symbol which evolve through repetition and convention into a working tool of communication.  Signs become letters, and letters, alphabets; ideas become pictures which, [in symbolic representation and combination], become words.  Words, arbitrary in origin, [extended in translation through derivative root, added suffix and prefix] are then made conventional by use. Use, in response, becomes contingent upon convention.

 

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In origin, writing systems were generated by the need to tally and record food production.  Counting grain and creating seasonal calendars of planting and harvesting demanded a uniformity of mark-making in order to retain utility.  From the earliest tallying of crop production to the flow of dissemination of information to the masses in reaching our contemporary state of universal literacy, writing systems have continually evolved and produced for us both the necessary invention for ultimate mass communication, and, in their respective states of physical record and object preservation, provide for an extensive anthropological and cultural/literary study.

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Other than a spontaneous human utterance of fear or joy, what else can be noted in its origin, its original context that has not gone through some sort of historical transcription? 2

J. G. Herder

 

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detail from “a shifting of variables”

 

 

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Every academic discipline contains a language, a patterning of elements, be they composed of number, word, letter, shape, color, symbol, image, or any repeated system of mark-making.  The repetition, structuring and replication make possible the language; the physical (legible) mark-making acting as both the means (to a communication) and an end (that which is [eventually] communicated).  The written shapes and letters in their manufactured pattern create as they record (in real time) and, if remaining active in communicating, continue to offer meaning within an ongoing historical context.  If no longer used in the act of communicating, the language [in its (now) purely formal state] resides in residual pattern.

Whether composed of letters, words, mathematical symbol, numerical notation, etc., all written language systems rely upon a conventionalized patterning (structure) for their survival.  In order for the individual voice to be heard, it must conform to an existing convention.  Here lies one of the many paradoxes of language regarding its utility and unique reception.

“The more alive a language is, the less one has thought of reducing it to letters, the more spontaneous it rises to the full unsorted sounds of nature, the less, too, is it writeable…” J. G. Herder

 

If the overall goal of language is communication, the formal language with which the artist ‘speaks’ is contingent upon the language of the society it intends to speak both to and about.  The artist who breaks with the traditional language of its discipline in creating a new form of communication (i.e.: Courbet, Millet, Van Gogh) is initially rejected due to this change in form.  Eventually, within the context of history, the society catches up with the new form, [the artist is then identified as being one “ahead of his time”] and the discipline itself is altered, and cannot return to its “time before”.

Language too, moves in this linear fashion, and is as mutable as the society which uses it.  The paradox of language is shown here, with the unique voice of the artist “the less, too, is it writeable” having to submit to the conventional in order to be heard.  The proverbial misunderstood artist with his “illegible handwriting” is often misread (or, unread?), only to be deciphered much later by the privileged spectators of history.

 

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The way in which we communicate is no doubt being altered by 21st century digital technology with its pace, immediacy, and accessibility.  Information is transmitted and made available all of the time, and foremost, is generated in “real time”.  This poses all sorts of changes made in how we write, read, gather and assess, streamline and interpret, and, ultimately, make changes to our existing language.  The form is inseparable from the content, thus, our language can only reflect our existing medium.

 

If the medium for writing changes from handwritten correspondence to instant messaging, the language in turn, follows suit.  The limited time and space of the text message and the tweet makes no room for the contemplative lengthy passage, the periodic sentence.  The abbreviated word in the rising use of acronym is just one of the changes taking place in the field of digital communication.  The phonetic translation of these acronyms could certainly find their way (back?) to the logogram.  A three word expression taking the form of three letters in acronym could eventually turn into a furthered shorthand symbol.  The new shape is no longer phonetic, but logographic.  Our written language is changing.

 

The earlier theories of Johann Herder realign themselves with the current flow of our digital language.  Noting Herder’s claim that words are rooted in verb form seems to make perfect sense today, with our activity demanding a new word to be formed to not only identify it, but (actively) participate in its identity.  In order to understand the world around us, we naturally, by our given nature, give things names.  ‘To blog”, ‘to Google’ and ‘to tweet’ are infinitive forms of verbs which have successfully risen out of the necessarily mutable nature of language and its newest placement in the medium of electronic communication.   Conventional use mixes with historical change and gives to language its life.  Without both components operating, (and, both seemingly contradictory) [a] language would cease to exist as a language, and would become instead, an historical record of a once-used (but now antiquated) pattern.

 

In the field of Linguistics, Benjamin Whorf claimed that the content of a language is directly related to the content of a culture and the structure of a language is directly related to the structure of a culture.  If this is true, the culture of the tweet, text, and blog (the form) alongside the globalizing power of the Internet (the context of influence) will invariably alter our existing language, or, evolve into a completely new system of sign and symbol all of its own.

 

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Our earliest use of the computer gave to us the Word Processor, a tool further advancing our facility (of writing) while distancing ourselves from the uniqueness of a personal penmanship.  The term “word processing” itself gives us a reading of [a] manufactured item being distributed large-scale and to the masses [in the same manner as did Warhol’s images, with the ‘making of’ image through the mechanism of factory-built process, and then, engaging both marketing strategy (the selling of image) and the mass assembling (in the gallery exhibition) of its parts.  Image was the subject; mass production (and, mirrored manipulation), the content.

 

As for image, the computer software program Adobe Photoshop also gives us change in the way in which we take photographs.  We no longer take photographs, we “make photographs”.  Again, facility and ease of doing this run alongside the distancing of the personal; all images can be manufactured with this software tool, and, the tool, made available to anyone with a computer and the purchasing of the software.  The “Photo-Shopping” of image denies any such vestigial concept of “original” or “authentic”.

The shattering of aura (of an art object) with the advent of mechanical reproduction [unveiled for us by Walter Benjamin in 1935] (and made real by Warhol) can now be compared to the advent of the blog, twitter, and text in terms of its own altering of established academically ruled fields.  Journalism seems the most affected, along with that of publishing and the copyright.  As for language itself, its rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling along with the formal nature of [its] written translation is transforming as rapidly as is the technology we use to communicate.

On another level, the digital transcription and then storage of texts in electronic form [without the need of any actual physical written record, any tangible piece of paper, or reel of microfilm, [or, furthered – any clay tablet, carved vessel or hidden scroll] is the current stage set for the recording of a culture’s history.  Electronic blips of translated shapes of 1’s and 0’s house the “history” we now make.  The tactile objects of the past will remain just that, (becoming even more of a museum treasure) while the scanning and processing of literature turns what used to be individual books and references into one large electronic ball of page-less citation.  If we are lucky, the works existing in their secured digital form will not be lost to technical whimsy, or, political nightmare.

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might
“might ( possible)”

 

After years of creating odes to writing’s formal cadence and aesthetic script, there is now the revolutionary text message, hypertext translation and abbreviated use of an existing alphabet.  I am trying to concentrate my own work in this direction, with the idea of writing and its grammatical form and physical translation of history losing itself in this same stream of advancing technology;  both out-running  society’s own comprehension of its quickly changing form.

 

2/2017

 

 

  1.  Marshall McLuhan/Quentin Fiore  “The Medium is the Massage”.  copyright 1967
  2. J. G. Herder – from “On the Origin of Language” – copyright 1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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