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Is Digital Photography Ahistorical?

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.

One Comment

  1. Sean wrote:

    Some of your comments here remind me of Vilem Flusser:

    What we are surrounded by above all are redundant photographs - and this is the case despite the fact that every day new illustrated newspapers appear on our breakfast tables, every week new posters appear on city walls and new advertising photographs appear in shop displays. It is precisely this permanently changing situation that we have become accustomed to: One redundant photograph displaces another redundant photograph. As such the changing situation is familiar, redundant; ‘progress’ has become uninformative, run-of-the-mill. What would be informative, exceptional, exciting for us would be a standstill situation : to find the same newspapers on our breakfast tables everyday or to see the same posters on city walls. That would surprise and shock us./\

    Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 6:28 am | Permalink

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; [...]

  2. [...] multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; [...]

  3. [...] multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; [...]

  4. [...] multiple places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYUdescribes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; [...]

  5. [...] places and meanings at one time. Fred Ritchin, professor of photography and imaging at NYU describes it as “Quantum imagery.” Digital photography is anything and everything at any single moment; [...]

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