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Essay by Ana Teresa Vicente


Photography and New Media

by Ana Teresa Vicente

Particularly in a time where only a small number of the images we create are printed, the materiality of the photograph as object seems to be a critical subject within photographic image research. This is perhaps especially true in the time in which we live where even though many significant, chemical based photographic processes have been “abandoned” over time or restricted to certain specialized artistic practices, both photochemical and digital photographic processes are still viable and available.

When analyzing different formats and supports until digital practices, this transition becomes troublesome, whether because the access is limited to the device’s availability, as well as the possible deterioration that occurs so frequently, both in photochemical and digital media (in this case, when the file is corrupted, its access may be impossible or, at best, the file will be displayed with mistakes or glitches).

For a better understanding of the relation between photography and the new media, it will be necessary to determine the meaning of this term that is becoming increasingly vaguer. What is the new media? In what way do they relate to photochemical practice and with digital photography? What is their impact on artistic production?

What is the new media? In what way do they relate to photochemical practice and with digital photography? What is their impact on artistic production?

As it was mentioned by Parikka, the new has become obsolete, that is, what was new in the 19th century is part of the media’s archaeology in the contemporary era. The author also argues for the possibility of questioning the media’s where and when. In the case of obsolete media, by equating the possibility of juxtaposition between the old, the new and the emergent, in a way, it produces a set of more complex time coordinates (2016, pp. 42-43). So, in what way can you combine the new and the old media, so as to amplify the interferences between each of them, and opening alternative spaces of production and contamination?

Rubinstein claims that a clean cut with the analogical past has never been completely established – and that digital image is, at least, partly based on technologies and “old” production methods (2013, p.5). Furthermore, Batchen states that the frontier between photography and other media is becoming more and more breathable, declaring that we have entered a post-photographic era, that is, a moment after, but not yet beyond photography (2000, p.109).

Therefore, this post-photographic configuration is, in Flores’ words, a moment of “coexistence of visual regimes, but also because it is a moment when trust or mistrust in imagery can’t be based on an ontology (we don’t identify the nature of the images we see, whether they’re analogical or digital)” (2012, p.21).

Digital processes give back the production of photographic images “to the whim of the creative human hand (to the “digits”)”, and for that reason, Batchen states that digital images are much closer to artistic creative processes than the truth values associated with documentary evidence (2000, p.134).

The role of the media, the devices and the information that is left out interferes and delimits photography itself, making these aspects to be taken as indexical as well. The properties of film, processes, lenses and supports compete, side by side, with the indexicality of the objects and the photons that make up the image (Sonesson, 1999, p.13). Regarding the out-of-frame, Dubois mentions that it is the index’s logic that works this relation, producing a feeling that is “beyond the perfectly existential image”, since “through the partial vision that is presented to us, any photograph thus duplicates itself necessarily from an invisible presence, from an exteriority of principle, given meaning by the cutting gesture itself that the photographic act implies” (1992, p. 181).

Yet, photography carries within itself the contiguity between reality and what is captured by the device, replicating what is real through an apparent similarity and the laws of optics: it is the icon and the index (Shaeffer, 1987, p.59). In the case of digital photography, we see that it requires some display device that converts numerical representation in signs that can then become visible and may be interpreted by humans (Sarvas & Frohlich, 2011, p. 10).

Another possibility that is opened by the medium is the chance of reading an image as a different output (like audio, for instance). This way, the same sign can be read as an image, if presented on a screen, an energetic diagram, if introduced in an oscilloscope or a sound sequence if introduced in an audio system (Viola, 2003, p. 463).

Manovich (1995) claims that, despite the innovation in the digital having radically and significantly changed photographic practice – particularly regarding the production processes, manipulation and image dissemination – they don’t establish new ways of working, but only reinforce the practices that already exist. However, in Inside Photoshop (2011), this author questions the way that the visualization, management and remixing processes affect our experience and shape the actions we take. Then, the software media would be an important key for understanding the media, whether through their genealogy, that is, where they come from, whether through their anatomy – interfaces and operations.

We don’t refer to revelation processes anymore, like in photochemical photography, in which the latent image in the film is converted into a visible image; we’re referring to “opening” images instead, in functionally immediate images (Fontcuberta, p. 42). Yet, with the digital image, there is still a latent image that is now becoming visible through the use of programs (that read codes), screens and light-emitting surfaces, rather than printed, physical photographs. This way, not only digital images imitate another medium (Bolter & Grusin, 2000, pp.27-28), but they’re also a result of algorithmic processing, only being accessible through devices.

The mechanism of electronic latency is also characterized by its reversibility, that is, by “being able to give back the final image to its previous latent phase”. Therefore, photography on screen is usually temporary, a printed photo is considered “consumable”. (Fontcuberta, 2012, p. 41)

So, according to Lister, (2013 p.13), the photography’s apparatus is now expanded, including not only cameras but also online organizations, social networks, databases and post production ‘lightrooms’, where photographs are altered, kept, organized, classified and shared...

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Essay published in ArchivoZine 19

New Media, In the Age of Visual Culture

Ana Teresa Vicente is a FCT Research Fellow and Phd student at the University of Lisbon,

Faculty of Fine Arts, Artistic Studies Research Centre.