Digital Image Technology: Its Influence on Prints and Photographs

 

IV Salon y Coloquio Internacional de Arte Digital

 

Conrad Gleber

4/19/02

 

            Does or will digital technology influence the way prints and photographs are produced and seen? The simplest argument is settled by invoking the relationship between any product and the way it was made. Artworks reflect the medium from which they are made; consequently, experience with the object also reflects the medium. But what occurs to the rest of the integration process that we call culture?

What is culture? My definition of culture is the appropriation of values and practices that are made real by the shared activity of using information provided in a learning context. One example is artists who work together as a collaborative group (i.e. DUPP). A macro example might be a national gallery or national event like a biennial where an expansive survey of artwork is presented for the public to experience.

Then, with culture in mind, let’s restate the question. Instead of “Will digital means change prints?” the question becomes How it will develop. Digital processes are in constant development and innovation. Development cannot sustain itself without some end point, a goal. For artists, goals are situated in cultural interaction.

Lev Vygotsky, the famous Russian cultural psychologist, initiated a cultural-historical approach to the origins of higher mental functions and consciousness. The key to his brilliance was that his ideas extended beyond psychology and led to a general theory of culture and its development. He is very clear that development or cultural change must reflect on what end points to have in mind. In his writing Vygotsky considered ideal end points for cultural development somewhere between “enlightened rationality” and a “harmony of imagination.” Whether we can subscribe to this view or prefer another, the critical thing is that goals must be in mind while culture develops new artists, mediums and activities (Wertsch, 1998).

The tension between the triad of artists, their methods and the viewers of the art implies that art is produced and provokes through an irreducible relationship of who and how. And although we can safely assume that there will be changes in how images will be produced we cannot predict the variety of results that may emerge from the interaction.

The affordances and constraits of new media describe the dialectic for complex and ambiguous development that art will take as artists engage new digital means. New media are usually seen as new facility or capability. They afford future development, and explain the evolving actions and transformation that artists and communities may experience.

But if artists find emerging information technology an engaging process for producing art, it will not be free. It is also important to look at the constraints that new means may have on perspective and capability. The literary critic, Kenneth Burke wrote about how language defines and opens our mind to new experience. It also focuses our perceptions, constricts and narrows our choices at understanding reality. He wrote that any medium presents a reflection of reality and acting within the medium represents a selection and therefore, deflects our understanding of reality. The medium constrains the artist and the viewer as it lies within the image (1966).

Therefore any analysis of the impact of digital technology must acknowledge that new work and the implicit transformation of culture must be seen as the mediated action of artists in society.

 

II.

Digital technology used to make visual images changes the perception of what the image represents. The meaning of images made through digital means radically transforms what we can assume about the content. Digital images are generated or manipulated by computers and their ability to construct an artificial reality undermines the authenticity of images to represent an actual event.

The meaning of these images slips from being an index of reality to a visual representation similar to painting. But far from taking away any special properties of authenticity due to methods of control, the image can represent a more intimate view of artistic conception.