I’ve been having this conversation recently with a number of people: Whereas film photography was about time (not only the instant in which the shutter is opened but the time to process the image both physically and psychologically), digital photography is so instantaneous, abundant and virtual that it seems to reside outside of the passing of time.
The enormous numbers of images that we see on our screens, hosted by Web sites, are as a result perceived as dislocated, rootless, without import in signifying the arcs of history. The problem is not only one of image manipulation software, but of the empty shells that these images inhabit—decontextualized, without agency, ephemeral. These digital images are viewed as chimera, deracinated and oblivious to the historical.
In the After Photography book I wrote a chapter about the digital as emanating from and reinforcing a quantum worldview, and film’s different linkages to a Newtonian perspective. In the Newtonian/film construct there is always an implied cause and effect; in the quantum/digital there are probabilities, non-localities, and enormous ambiguities like the wave/particle duality.
My sense is that the quantum/digital effects are most evident in the use of single images on the screen, or even the use of two or three images. With larger groups of photographs that use the essay form, particularly the interactive non-linear approach, there is still not only an evocation and exploration of history possible but one that can and should be augmented and made more complex by the addition of the personal and intimate. The essay is also made more fair by a mixing of perspectives, inviting subjects, readers, bystanders, policy-makers and others to join the photographer in constructing the essay’s meanings for the entire community. The authorial voice is both undermined and transformed into a larger, more collaborative, and often dissonant chorus.Truths multiply and can be more intensely contested.
It is here that the Newtonian/quantum hybrid can thrive. This is the locus of the media revolution.