I was one of the first to embrace the digital age. When the writing was clearly on the wall, I figured that as a photographer with close on to a hundred thousand negatives, I needed to digitize them and proceeded to do so, buying a Mac in 1996 and a dedicated negative scanner. This was rapidly followed by a web site. My reasoning to go the scanner route first was that because there was still so much of development needed to take place in getting camera’s ‘up to speed’, it made sense to start out on getting my existing archive digitized.
Eventually, I too got my first digital camera round about 2007. But before that I had been digitizing my negatives from most of the shoots I did from the late nineties onwards. I now consider myself fully up to speed, and though I could always do with a more professional digital camera, I’ve slowly come to realize that the digital wave has come with its own downside, which was predicted by the many pessimists in the industry.
Digitization has come hard on the heels, if not at the forefront of globalization. The two seem to work in unison and have a symbiotic relationship. The world is awash with images and the image has come of age, long included as an indispensable part of the advertising industry and finally accepted as a fully-fledged member of the art world. Even newspapers, which for years treated images as mere illustration to fill the columns and illustrate the written word at best, now realize the power of the image and accord it its due respect, almost.
Of course, theorists have long been aware of just how pervasive images have been in western consumer culture, and how persuasive they have been. Just as the popular media has ‘dumbed-down’, and become a parody of the gutter press, long reviled and now dominant, so too has the Paparazzi come of age and come into respectability. Noam Chomsky alerted us a few decades ago to the extent to which media was complicit in manufacturing our consent to being enslaved by the collusion of big business and government, but I guess we all have our price.
One of the many charms which won me over to digital photography was its seemingly ‘democratic nature’, in which, in the wake of the Kodak Brownie revolution, photography could continue its inevitable march into the hands of the masses. And so it has. The darling of social media networking tools, images have never been made more readily by the man-in-the-street. The convenient marriage of the cellular phone and the camera has made this revolution complete.
The camera is surely a handy tool in the hands of the masses. Images in personal albums have a very real use and as people are able to obtain more and varied photos of them selves, this then has many more spin-offs, such as a greater sense of heritage.
One asks however, to what end? Are these images also capable of creating the necessary consciousness needed to shift our present paradigm. It would seem that the ability of images to allow for reflection is the pre-imminent role that it is capable of, apart from its role of selling product and ideology. Could it be that as the world sees itself reflected in the televised devices in every hand, a shift could occur, in which the past efforts of professional image makers becomes complete in the hands of the everyman and woman?
The world needs this shift, as we race, lemming-like, towards an unsustainable consumer future. Poised as it has been for decades with a capacity for self-annihilation, and now in a state where one super power holds hegemonic sway, almost drunkenly demonstrating power, we need this shift most. The world was enthralled by the sight, through a camera fixed to a canon on an Apache helicopter, of civilians being gunned down in heady detachment, and the chilling effects of high technology have done for us jaded masses what few media houses are capable of. More is surely to come, Wikileaks boss in prison or not.
The free press was muzzled in the 1800’s by an avaricious and powerful emerging capital elite, and that elite continues to hold even more awesome power in its hands, which governments cannot ignore or collude with. It is to be expected that this new popular media too will need its own muzzling, and attempts are to be seen at every instance.
The illusion is created that we have a free press, when in fact most journalism, written by overstretched writers in understaffed newsrooms, are simply incapable of doing justice to providing the genuine balanced information that would allow the readers to arrive at decisions. Coupled to this the fact that it is the sensational stories which make the profits sought by the owners and shareholders of the media houses. Facts often get in the way of a good story.
I now do all personal work on an analogue camera. My reasoning for this is two fold; First, my fixation with archives has led me to distrust the digital archive, which I find too untrustworthy, prone to crashes and constant updates and upgrades. Secondly, I am still entranced by the silver toned image, and feel that whilst silver paper is available that I’d like to make the most of it. Digital imaging I consign to a digital diary of my everyday encounters, much like an artists sketchbook, and even that is sometimes so overwhelming in the sheer magnitude of content that I have difficulty to even peruse the images I’ve created.
So its back to film for this old school boy.