Focus, International Seminar of Digital Photo 1992.
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - A NEW TOOL
copyright Aimo Hyvärinen
Photography is one of the social agreements by which we look at and examine reality. It is one part of our scientifical and artistical facilities that we are using in arranging our perceptions and worldviews. Photography in itself is part of our sociological history and tecnological culture. The predecessor of photography, camera obscura, introduced the one-eyed perspective to our culture and also science and art began to view the world through it. The learning of perspective had an profound effect on our western civilitation, on our ways of thought and on the hierarchy of thought. The way a person sees his actual surroundings and the whole reality is always dependent on his culture and the technological knowledge of his culture.
The moment when man learned to fix the image produced by camera obscura on paper signified the birth of photography. Photograph as a technological invention started to satisfy our need of realism, our need to perceive reality as it looks to be. All the professional photographers knew of course right from the start that reality is easy to manipulate in many ways through the lens and photomaterials but the big public seems to be quite innocent of the fact even today.
Photography taught us for example to perceive the movement easier; Muybridge's shots of fastmoving horses and people influenced both science and art. Many painters were forced to admit that their famous rocking-horse posture, with all four of the horse's feet extended, was a falsification of reality. The painters' mistake is understandable - the human eye sees only 10 images per second so the horse movements are too fast for our eyes to register. Photography also had other influences in art - I think photography clearly effected impressionism and pointillism and also reversally effected the need of surrealism and cubism, not forgetting the late influences in postmodern art. Photography taught us to look at people and things through the objective - the exterior became a more important value in our culture than it had been before photographs.
Let this be a short introduction to the interdependence between tehnological innovations and the ways of seeing in a culture. In the same way we can consider the main theme of our seminar, the digital image and a whole new tool, the computer. I will first take an overall look at digital image in general and then look more closely at the practical wievpoint of an professional photographer.
THE DIGITAL IMAGE
The digital image will deepen and extend the value of pictures in communication, science and art. It offers new attractive possibilities for professionals and amateurs and it will change our ways of seeing. Digital image blurs the borders between photograph, painting, drawing, printed image and video. These days we cannot accurately say whether the origin of the digital image we see on the monitor, is a painting, a photograph or a videoimage.
It is already possible to see how the digital imageworld will affect aestetics : on the other hand all the possibilities are used with really bad taste, on the other hand it has helped reaction to massmediaimages through its easy scan and manipulate -routines. Simple and stylish use of the possibilities seems still to be a rarity. In the beginning the easy use of clip and paste usually leads to unplanned mess and visual babble, when the media is used by those who can afford it and not by those who have the talent.
The digital image is already effecting traditional images in bussiness and art just like cameras and other equipment. The new competition will give birth to many new innovations and it will have also an effect on the prices, I hope.
How the digital image will change our imageculture and ways of seeing is one of the major questions. I think it is positive if people at last will begin to question the similarity between photographs and reality. It has been remarkable to see the great public interest in digital manipulation of images, when all the same possibilities of manipulation has already existed in photography and cinema. Also it is quite interesting to see all the great efforts in producing naturalistic images through computers, at the same time that artists have abandoned realism in photography.
As a technical invention the digital image is in the phase of fast evolution and progress. New applications land on the market every month. The main promblem still remains the same: printing is expensive if good quality is needed. The other main problem is datatransport between different applications and machines. There are numerous bitmaps and other graphical formats and the transport of images between them often causes declining in quality or other problems, for ex. the application does not recognize some of the many TIFF-formats.
In the near future the signification of digital still and videoimage will grow as one important part of the evolution of computer into a new mediamachine. This new mediamachine will unite television, telephone, fax, recorder, computer, synthesizer and hifiset and even the coffeemachine into one complete unit, through which we can communicate with databanks, satellitechannels, telephone friends or use our time inside virtual games or self-study and making bussiness. The keywords today are optical fibers, CD-Rom, Global Network and interactive applications. There is already some speculation about direct connection between man and machine through electrodes or similar equipment. Quite a few people in the computer industry seem to be worried about the human consciousness and what may be happening to it when it is connected to a global interactive network, where the physical and ethical limitations don't seem to have any meaningful value. Television and the entertainment industry have already created people whose sense of reality and relativity has darkened and understanding of history diminished just like their capability of reading longer than ten word sentences. We can only anticipate what will happen when people are connected directly into virtual reality which is far more fun and easier to handle than this sometimes dull everyday reality. To make applications and programs for virtual reality will be expensive and timetaking - only the big showbusiness companies can afford it, and their activities are controlled by money not by concern of neighbours' soul. Societies and nations should already start thinking about how to compete education with entertainment and start to create interactive educational programs before it is too late for those who will drown in virtual wonderland. For so far it is luckily much too expensive and timeconsuming for most of the people and also the videoimage too grainy and jerky to satisfy other than real freaks.
From the professional photographers point of view the digital image is not yet a particularly interesting medium. It is also a danger that it interests so few - this new and stimulating instrument can grow in hands other than the photographers. Professional education needs to take this into consideration. The reasons that practical-minded photographers are not so enthusiastic about digital photographty are several. One of the most important is the price of a good quality digital camera - a single free lancer photographer cannot really afford it and on the other hand these cameras need as much light as cameras used to need back in the 19th century. Digital cameras cannot yet compete with usual cameras in shooting situations. Also the serious amateur is irritated by the full automatation of cheaper stillvideo cameras. To effect the image during shooting is paradoxically as difficult as it is easy during manipulation in the computer. I am not using digital cameras very much myself, but I use willingly digital manipulation when I am planning a poster or fooling around with some artproject.
How then can a professional photographer use the digital image or photography? In the studio he can show his ideas in the monitor: he can easily try different lights or colours on his digital image or different backgrounds etc. Digital photographs will be used in printed matters directly. A photographer can also use multimedia or hypermedia as one part of his work and that is where digital or stillvideo photography becomes practical.
The most important field using digital photography will be newspapers, which are happy to have images directly through wires or satellites into their lay-out machines. And the price is not such a question to big publishers. But I suppose that the pressphotographers will despise clumsy and heavy digital cameras at the start. On the other hand the cheap and easy to handle stillvideo cameras satisfy most of the needs at a small local paper. As a future vision we can see remote controlled digital and videocameras in difficult and dangerous situations.
The advertisement images will make great use of the high class digital manipulation because in many cases it will bring down the costs - for example it is easier and cheaper to paste models digitally into exotic landscapes than to travel on the spot. Advertisement world is the biggest winner in using digital applications - from desktop publishing to photomanipulation. The museums will also gain advantages by using digital photography in their listing work and archives. The easy search of images will bring digital applications also to commercial photoarchives. Now the search after good photos can be done via computer and CD-Rom and the valuable original photos can be kept in safety. The transfer of photographs into CD-records is already quite economical and will be even more easy in near future. There are not so big doubts concerning the preservation of CD-Rom than there are with magnetic memory.
The science and army have been using digital photography for a long time - actually many of the original ideas come from there. In science the astronomers use digital photography when recording different wavelengths of radiation from space - just like the old astrologers used the primitive camera obscura when observing the movements of heavenly bodies thousands of years ago. Photography has always been deeply linked with the scientifical and artistical curiosity of human mind.
It is interesting to imagine what will happen to the copyrights of photographs when all kinds of images will be easily captured into computers and as easily manipulated to whatsoever. Can a photographer recognize his or her own photograph when it has been modified in digital 3-dimensional space as taken from a different angle with different light and background? Or when a black and white photograph has been changed into full colour slide? I think that many of the digital image professionals will not photograph anything by themselves when it is easier to use good images from different sources. I am intently awaiting the first lawsuits - where the biggest profit will without no doubt go to the lawyers.
For a professional photographer the digital image is something more than just a new special kind of film. It gives more possibilities in the afterprocessing of the image but it also threatens the aura of photographer as the preserver of reality. The contents and aesthetics of real photographs it will not change strongly because if the digital images are visibly manipulated they will be recognized as graphics or paintings and not photographs. The digital image will touch through its many applications upon several important questions of ethics and moral in business- and artworld. The question of copyright is only one of the easiest to comprehend. The most important questions still remains the same as thousands of years ago: how is the image used and why?