Exercise 1.2: Through a digital lens

In 1964, Belgian surrealist, RenĂ© Magritte, painted 'The Son of Man' (below, left). It is a portrait of a man in a bowler hat, red tie and dark blue overcoat.  He is standing in front of a low wall, which holds back the sea in the background. Overhead is a cloudy sky. The most distinctive feature of this oil painting is the green apple, which partly obscures the subject's face. His left eye can just be seen peering at the viewer from behind the fruit. The title, 'Son of Man', together with the apple, give the work of art a religious reference to Adam in the Garden of Eden.

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I knew the Spice Girls

Joan Fontcuberta's chapter title takes the read back to a time of 'girl power' and the notion of celebrity. He recalls an anecdote about having his photograph taken in a photo booth and being presented with the option to magically appear with the Spice Girls. Other options included Princess Diana and Tony Blair. At the time, these personalities offered an alternative view of the world, an opportunity to break away from what had always been. The Spice Girls encouraged strong independent women, Princess Diana looked to modernise the royal family, and Tony Blair was all about a New Labour, following years of Tory rule. The fact that you could choose to appear in a photograph with one of these people, is a glimpse at how the photograph could be used as a symbol of support and solidarity. 

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Obedient Numbers

If video killed the radio star, then digital killed analogue. The days of taking your roll of film to Boots, and collecting it an hour or a day later have long gone. Those who nostalgically want to hold on to the past might be heard saying that the rise of computing is responsible. Despite this accusation, Batchen (2002: 165) claims that, ever since their creation, both photography and computing were destined to converge by stating that, "the two technologies share a common history and embody comparable logics."

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The origins of photomontage

Now that we are living in the 'digital age', it would be excusable to consider analogue photography to be 'what you see is what you get'. With so many image manipulation tools available to the modern day photographer, such as filters, cloning and air brushing, it is difficult to confidently view jpegs and raw files today as one hundred per cent accurate. In order for an image to stand out from the crowd and saturated market place, it would seem as though every image needs to encapsulate perfection. We live in a sterile world, without blemishes and sun flares. This view is shared by Bull (2010: 22) who warns that, "the more questionable 'reality' depicted in digital photographs fits a postmodern period of uncertainty.

Naively, I used to believe that image manipulation was a by product of photo editing software, such as Photoshop. However, after reading about the origins of photomontage, I have come to realise that, even since the days of Talbot and Daguerre, no image is an exact representation of the place the exposure was made. Manovich (2003: 245) sums this up by stating that, "Digital technology does not subvert 'normal' photography because 'normal' photography never existed." For example, Oscar Rejlander's 'The Two Ways of Life' (1857) is a combination of thirty images. 

Now that I am more aware of how the Victorians cut-up and reassembled photographs, it is clear that modern day methods are just a continuation of earlier methods. Photo editing software is the modern day alternative that just enables the photographer to speed up the editing process.  



Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Routledge: London