|Chapter title||The Digital Condition of Photography: Cameras, Computers and Display|
In a stream of old fast one-line jokes from the 1970s, a comedian announces that he has just purchased a new ‘digital’ watch. The punch line is that it has to be wound up with ‘digits’ (his ﬁngers). The joke and the small ripple of laughter that it evoked among the audience implicitly acknowledged a barely concealed anxiety about the impact of new technology on the human body. The computerization of familiar everyday objects such as the humble watch means that the human body is no longer required to maintain their operation, machines are automated and ‘work by themselves’. As old media forms are integrated into new media devices (the time-piece is a good example) it is commonplace to summarize all these diﬀerent changes to modern life as a ‘digital revolution’. The word ‘digital’ features heavily in the description of these technological processes and the social changes that embody them. Convenient as these terms such as ‘digital culture’, ‘digital media’ or even a ‘digital future’ are, they nevertheless inevitably compress together the diﬀerent processes of a highly complex technological social formation. The danger here is that the idea of digitalization is used easily to generate a reductive narrative of technology, of one simply superseded by another, whereas the actual history is more complex and uneven. Even in a simple technical history of early photography, the question of its use is far from singular or the aﬀect achieved absolutely certain. Multiple histories of photography have done little to clarify the muddled scope of its beginnings, the diﬀerent ambitions and aims, or the subsequent and diﬀerent developments of photography in its many varied uses. In a way, the term ‘digital photography’ only ampliﬁes this problematic
by bringing it forward into a diﬀerent contemporary situation. On the other hand, ‘digitization’ or its less popular synonym ‘computerization’ should not be separated from what is undeniably also a cultural, economic, political and social process of change. To speak of a ‘digital condition’ then is not to ask what a technological development means to society, or what changes of society means for a technology, but rather to consider their heterogeneous and uneven reciprocal aﬀects on one other. Rather than line up alongside the class of people who seek to become the new
‘digital’ intellectuals and commentators that uncritically promote ‘digital culture’ to be in step with the times, or conversely, the critics who stand back amid cultural conservatives and attack it at every opportunity in the defense of a superior ‘analogue’ culture (while bemoaning the diminishing production of ﬁlm), perhaps there is another position; one more materialist that enquires into and considers the speciﬁc ‘digital’ condition of the photographic image in relation to the social identity of ‘photography’ as a system for the inscription of visual images. In short, the question is: what kind of functions of ‘photography’ does a digital condition aﬀect? How does it change the experience of photography, or conversely, how do uses of photography change a ‘digital condition’? Then we may ask, what kind of competencies, knowledge or ‘know-how’ and types of practical skill are required of those who produce and consume photographic-based visual images in computerized societies? If these questions are important it is because, in many already obvious ways in the contemporary global dissemination of photographic images, digital transmission is already the dominant form of processing and distributing photographic images (even if the original image was analogic). In the case of a hand-held computer device, for instance (a laptop, phone, display device), which can distribute an image globally in an electronic instant as easily as a blink of the human eye, it is also to ask the question: who is distributing what to whom, where and why? Yet this type of abstract question is not so easy to answer. Unlike the cinema or newspaper, which are more easily located as institutions with their discrete sets of practices and discourses, photographs appear precisely as an environment; they permeate streets, the home, the shop, the museum, etc. In this respect, the visibility of the forces operating in and on them is often less visible, remaining hidden, out of sight. We are left with the appearance of images. So we may ask in what way does a digital condition aﬀect these already existing issues and problems for understanding photography? How do we talk about the distinct institutional and discursive practices of fashion photography, news photography, advertising images, tourist iconography, public displays of private photographs, the specious genres of pornographic image, tabloid and paparazzi photography, generic ‘stock’ images, art photographs or portraits of public ﬁgures all as simply ‘digital photography’? Yet the abstraction of ‘digital photography’ may still be useful if, instead of being used to repress the distinct institutional and discursive practices of photography indicated here, it is seen like an umbrella, a thing that aﬀects them while remaining distinct in its own terms. How might we conceive its eﬀects?
|Book title||The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. 2nd edition|
|Published||23 Sep 2013|
|Digital Object Identifier (DOI)||https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203797563|
|Web address (URL)||http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203797563|