Delilah Montoya 12/5/00
The phrase"Photographic digital imaging by way of the electronic media,"suggests an evolution in technology as well as the dispersal of the definitionof photography. The apprehension and anticipation of the photographer goesbeyond the problematic consideration of when technology becomes instrumental inre-framing current standards. Key to the contention that significant changesare occurring is the retooling of the studio space, production skills, andphotographic principles. All of this is designed to allow an existingparadigm to apply this developing technology; however, in order for aneffective tooled environment to occur, an intrinsic understanding of what thetechnology indeed contributes must transpire. Perhaps the most basic yetcomplicated question to address is: "In what way does the digital/electronic medium contribute to photographic space?"
The power of theelectronic environment is its multimedia ability to assimilate images of manymedia types into its own environment, only to reconfigure them into othermedia. Various media are used as source material that is then fed into theprocessing unit known as the computer. The source material is translated orcaptured to a digital file that renders analog imprints as binary equations. These equations represent samples gathered at particular frequency points. Those specific points are not precise representations but rather anapproximation of analog points that are snapped to a digital grid. The grid ismade up of pixels. Each pixel is assigned a bit depth. The pixel registersthe spatial/ frequency point and the bit expresses the value range of thatpoint. The digital file of an analog capture is an equation that can beprecisely transcribed over and over again; therefore, when the digital file iswritten it is not just a representation but an exact replica of the firstcapture. The digital file can be replicated, like a clone, indefinitelywithout loosing or being delineated from the file of the first capture. Inorder to view the file it must be rasterized and outputted to a monitor or hardcopy. The digital file is preserved by either locking the file so it cannotbe altered or create multiple originals that replicate the initial capture. For instance an image written into a j-peg format located on the web or on acompact disk is both a locked file as well as one that can be downloaded andsaved into other electronic environments.
Incontrast to the polygenesis original that is basic to the photographic digitalfile, the chemical photographic image for the most part is a one-off matrix.
Theone-off matrix is the basic procedure for generating multiple graphic prints ofa single image. Historically, this method provided the standard forphotographic reproductions. The matrix is not the end result but rather it isinstrumental in the production of graphic edition prints. Each strike fromthe matrix creates an imprint of a specific image. However, it is important tonote that no matter how methodical the strike is controlled, each resultingimprint references the matrix in a variable manner. No two copies areidentical matches and the second generation is a degeneration ofthe first. As a result, the digital file that contains precise information ofthe initial capture is considered a flawless match and offers more precisionthan the chemical-derived photographic matrix.
Notably, thisnotion assumes that the capture to the digital grid is so exact that it couldtranslate the analog imprint with better clarity than film grain. In addition,the environment outputting the capture must sequence the digital data so thatall the information contained in the file is imaged. Given the current state-of-theart in digital imaging this is more an ideal than an actuality. Only veryexpensive high-resolution output and image capture devices indeed successfullygenerate a product that is superior to the chemical photograph. Nonetheless,given the amount of resources expended in developing the electronic digitalimaging industry, an inexpensive high-resolution output and image capture willsoon occur.
Oncethe photographic image is digitized into an electronic environment it is themost malleable of the photographic processes. This malleability of the imagerelies on the fact that reassigning new or altered pixels changes the equationand the very look of the final image. Modifications to the file constitute anew equation that can be saved and then replicated indefinitely. However, ifthe digital capture is not preserved as a separate file any adjustments willpermanently change the file and it then becomes a new original. In otherwords, the digital data captured must be saved and its replicated file shouldbe used for pixel modifications or the digital capture will be permanentlylost.
Itis the issue of image malleability that has generated most of the apprehensionand speculation concerning what digital imaging does and will contribute to thephotographic space. This space was developed during the 19thcentury by the upper middle-class intellects of the industrial nations. Photographic images were conceived out of the desire to generaterepresentations that were self-producing. Photography, alongwith the telegraph, mechanical weaving, computing and photomechanical printing,demonstrated unprecedented levels of machine intelligence and their developmenthelped set the modern era into motion. Within this environment, a number offundamental ideas about the photographic space were derived. The mostinfluential one was the photograph's relationship to objectivity, andconsequently to reality.
The photographicimage bore imprints that indexed the visible world. These imprints wereunderstood as a precise delineation of actuality/ contiguity and since theywere mechanical auto-reproductions, the resulting images were considered devoidof human subjectivity (this is a favorite position for the western mind totake). Even though the photographic image proved to be malleable at the adventof its introduction
This condition ofthe digital imprint is the source of current apprehension because the earlyphotographic intention to abstract the representation through automation canpotentially be dispensed along with the image's believability. Before thearrival of the digital age, postmodernist criticism already presented thephotographic environment as problematic in terms of veracity. Yet thepostmodernist artist could never disregard the lure of the imprint, just, asthe surrealist understood its contiguity as a powerful tool.
The distributionof photographic images rests on its viability for reproduction onto varioustactile surfaces. One image can take on multiple forms by working through theprocesses such as mechanical, chemical, and electronic printing. Theseprocesses allow for a wide range of image distribution. The movie industry hasdemonstrated this technique incessantly to the public by re-representing filmimages, as graphic prints, video clips, and merchandizing to gain publicrecognition for their soft product
Within this environment,as "the depiction" is shuffled from one media surface to the other,the image becomes very elusive and fuels questions of ownership, appropriation,spatial juxtapositions and conceptual assertions. Certainly a claim can bemade that the photographic environment released the image from its supportsurface and place it in the realm of an "inauthentic" copy
As the image movesfrom one media type to the other so does the viewer's response to that image. Except for Bill Gates house
Particularconsiderations that need to be addressed regarding photographic mechanical,digital, electronic and chemical prints are their legibility and their archivalas well as environmental health issues. The chemical process still providesthe standards for resolution and clarity of the photographic image but thedigital image is not far behind. The photographic mechanical print (i.e.halftone offset print) will always be limited in clarity because of the dotscreen construction. However the value of the mechanical print is that underthe proper conditions it will last longer as a visible artifact than thedigital or chemical print. The electronic file in theory can be preserveindefinitely, that is, so long as the hardware that reads the file remainsaccessible. All the mentioned processes have inherent environmental healthrisks but the digital/ electronic image is considered to be cleaner than thepigment/ chemical based photographic ones.
Just as thesurface support for the photographic image varies, so are the theoriesconcerning digital photography. Point of departures and agreements inpostulations emerge as the cultural experience is analyzed. In general it isagreed that the definition of photography must be extended to include digitalapplications. Michelle Henning
These alternativedefinitions attempt to negate the fact that the cultural encounter with thephotograph and its simulations includes the traditional understanding of theimprint as evidencing objectivity. The print as an objective statementresulted from the assumption that there is a simple correspondence betweenrepresentation and reality.
The digitalmanipulation of the image within the photographic environment extends theintellectual vision of the illusion by occupying the space between the"real" object and a hallucination. It provides a seamless transitionthat slips between the imaginary and the factual. According to Victor Burgin'sinterpretation of the Freudian dream, Freud's theories can be applied to thecultural application of the digital manipulated photographic print. Themediated image operates as dreams that are accessed collectively by the viewingpopulation. He also suggests that the electronically transmitted digitalimages represent the collapsing of geographic space by engendering the space oftime. This space is "of memory and fantasmatic anticipation." Burgin in these writings point to the advent of the worldwide Web, amegalopolis Internet system
Like mosttechnological research in the United States, the Internet was inspired duringthe mid 60's as a defense system that would be accessed in case the UnitedStates was totaled by a nuclear hit. It was to have no central authority andthe ability to operate through individual bases or nodes. Information is sentthrough fiber optics
An electronicphotographic image can more quickly be generated, distributed and individuallyreceived than any other photographic system. The other media industries arebogged down by production, legal, and distribution concerns. Internet accessis released from those concerns only to confront new agendas likeaccessibility, visibility, secure transactions, and unsolicited appropriations.
A pressing considerationis the accessing and organizing of a retrieval system that efficiently obtainsand transmits desired information. Those retrieval systems are known asInternet browsers. They help the net become user friendly by providing awindow-based environment for the TCP/IP protocol and allow an interface withthe machine operating systems as well as Internet search engines
The Internetenvironment can best be understood by contrasting it to language as BruceSterling suggested in "F&F Science Column#5 'Internet'." Hewrites:
The Internet -like language is an organized system of communication that is constantlyevolving in form and function. Change occurs as the use of the system increases;the more it is used the more complex the language becomes.
Interactivity andanimation in web pages gives the visitor feedback. As the visitor moves andclicks the mouse, the interest is maintained as concepts get demonstrated andorder forms are filled and validated. Most importantly, this is achievedwithout making a direct contact with the server. It allows the visitor tointeract by perceiving and doing more in each page. Whatthe visitor intents to do is obtain information or gain an experience. TheInternet does basically four things: mail (e-mail), discussion groups (USENET),long-distance computing (CD-ROM electronic card catalogs), and file transfers(electronic publishing.)
I will now focuson the Internet experience that makes use of electronic photographs byexploring "artistic experiences," this discourse will take the formof a critique of three sites: "Blind Spot", "Submethod",and "An Anatomy." All three sites use interactive and multimediamethods to provide an aesthetic experience that incorporates the digitalphotograph. Yet each makes use of the technology to achieve different results.
The Missionstatement reads as a poem:
"Whensomeone says interactive television think inactive human"
As afew of you well know, Design when, it is the article of the artist and theintellectual, the ideological and the spiritual, the mundane and thetranscendent, the beautiful and the affecting is a powerful tool more than itis or can be a gift. If you need me to complete the though go away
Weare not going to gloss this or market it, or aestheticize it as Culture Jamming
Weare not going to spell out your responsibilities to you
Weare not going to justify your presuppositions
Weare not going to lend credibility to your cultural index
Weare not going to facilitate your passivity or glorify acquiescence
Weare not going to be pleasant
Weare not going to be accommodating
Andyes we are talking to youÉ
Submethod's siteconstruction opens to a map page that links to 15 internal interactive pages;four hyperlinks that go out to other web sites; an e-mail link and finally a "role over" that reveals the mission statement. The hyperlinks arerevealed once the mouse rolls over the word "artist" and four namespopup. They are NPFC (Nineteen Point Five Collection), MDR D77 (no link), MikeYoung (Designgraphik), and Sean Foyle (artic.edu). The photographicbackground is a fragmented young male face rendered in sepia tones. A thinhorizontal line is animated to resemble an audio heartbeat that extends byscrolling down to reveal a few remaining beats.
The Submethod'snavigation experience is non-linear in that one can move back and forth frominternal links as well as the hyperlinks to the map page quite easily. Thatmovement is based on the understanding that each link opens to a newnavigational window. By clicking back on the old navigational page found onthe window bar or behind the front page, previous material is retreated.
The Submethodmeets the conceptual premise of utilizing web technology as an expressive tool. The idea is to create an intellectual experience that engages the user byoffering creative and highly aesthetic events. In keeping with a postmodernstyle, the pages make use of photographic imagery. At times the events areintriguing, fun, and surprising. As for shocking the viewer as the missionstatement suggests that remains to be seen. The work carries the mark ofyouthful artists who have a particular understanding of critical theory. Thesite is basically a very creative web portfolio.
The site isconstructed with six page that make use of frames linking to sound, graphics,animation, or still events referencing the story line. The narrativeconsistently reads as blue text on a black background with blue underlinedlinks. Text that footnotes the narrative is indicated by the reverse blacktext on a white background. As the story becomes more involved the system offrames increases in complexity.
"Blindspot"narrates the paranoia felt by a woman caring for her infant child. She is astay-at-home mom who is feeling the effects of her isolation. Her marriage isfalling apart and she suspects that the father has taken a mistress. All thisdrama is framed by her feeling that a male intruder has or is trying to enterthe apartment at the times she is alone with the baby. It is clearly acommentary on contemporary marriages and its effects on the female psychic.
Both"Blindspot" and "Submethod" make comments on contemporarylife. Submerge uses a fast almost broadcast method and "Blindspot"builds towards it with a layered story plot. "Blindspot's" approachis subtly sophisticated. However the interactivity of the site does slow downthe text dialog which is at times frustrating. Both sites meet their specificaesthetic requirements but are obviously constructed by different kinds ofartists. High-tech avant-garde artists devised "Submethod" and"Blindspot" is an attempt by the publishing industry to produce aninteractive book. Both sites use photographic imagery to help maintain a kindof immediacy that lends spontaneity to the page.
Unlike theprevious sites that use a system of windows to reveal the plot or portfoliopages, "An Anatomy"
AnAnatomy is based upon the body and time. The body is a metaphor for life, andtime is the ever-present fact of the computer. An Anatomy will utilize atime-based engine to drive a networked artificial life-form, of which allvisitors are a part. The site may seem to interact with the user instead of thereverse. The time-based interface is changed by time along with the presence ofusers, and therefore shifts in appearance from moment to moment. This life-formis connected to the idea of human anatomical structure in text and navigation.While coexisting in this life-space, the story of the life-form is built. Sound,animation, and user input coalesce, and user presence becomes part of what thelife-form needs to survive. The longer one stays, the more one visits and isinteracted with, the more one learns about the life-form's structure. Time iseverywhere--unseen, but felt. There is a beginning, but no end--only time. AnAnatomy gives visual representation to the passage of time, and leaves theviewer in his or her intimate space, staring at the screen, to ponder it. Thegoal is to build in his or her mind the picture of this life built by thenetwork feeding on the network. This piece functions as a memento mori, a myth,a dream, a vision.
Much is promised but little isdelivered. Although the statement suggests that the site's construction is ofa "time-based engine" that drives "a networked artificiallife-form" the engine builds as slowly as a tree grows. After linkingfrom the statement to the splash page, one sees series of "As" thatforms the eye sockets and nostril holes of a skull. The word"anatomy" highlighted in red as a hyperlink lies on the page'scenter. The next linked page features the beginning of life - a sperm and anegg. The audio is a low electronic murmur that continually hums as the spermdesperately seeks to wig its way to the egg's center. The attempt seemsfutile. Racing horizontally across the screen is a set of IP addresses. Certainly they should be able to help the sperm connect with the egg, but no,they seem to be unaware of the sperm's activities and life remains on the brinkof being. The point is that the visitor must be willing to wait and wait along time to witness the life-form. That is, if there really is one.
An Anatomy is madeto resemble an excerpt of biological research imprinting a "realtime" experiment. The site conceptually addresses specific theoreticalconcerns regarding cyber time and community. The photographic image is renderedto appear as an animated video clip that allows the egg to glow and turn red asthe mouse rolls over the image. What the site fails to address is theimpatience of the visitor. The visitor relies on software response in order tounderstand the page's level of interaction. Ultimately the site is like"Submethod's" insinuation regarding media - when thinking interactivemedia "think inactive human." An inactive human on the web goeselsewhere.
All the mentionedsites demonstrate the newness of the technology in that the work seems to bestruggling to make an aesthetic statement. At this time it is unclear how toimplement such an aesthetic project, as all the cultural markers are in thestate of flux. The assumption is that the statement demands interplay andcomplex ideas for the visitor to desire interaction. Maybe in order to createwith the new media, it is necessary to pick up only one bell or one whistle andlisten before playing them all at once.
The digital/electronic media has undoubtedly affected photographic space - its structuralsurface, malleability and ability to interface with other media types. Whatremains to be seen is how all this will frame our cultural experienceconcerning the photographic image. Will we began to understand the photographas an image similar in construction and intellect to that of a drawing or willour desire for the auto-representation keep the photographic imprint intact?