Photography and Liquid Intelligence

In 1989, the digital age was consuming all things analog. Jeff Wall (1989: 231) predicted that, “electronic and digital information systems...will replace photographic film.”  

Wall continues by being indifferent about this transformation. He is neither for nor against such a change. However, Wall (1989) does believe that there will be a new displacement of water in photography.

Water (liquid) signifies an archaism in photography. After all, it is water and chemicals which enable photographic prints to be developed in the darkroom. Furthermore, photography is able to capture the fluidity of nature and form of nature. Conversely, these can only be recreated through the dry intelligence of the camera, such as its mechanics and optics.

Wall (1989) alludes to the idea that digital photography will be based on the generation of electricity, therefore altering ‘the historical consciousness of the medium.’ However, Wall continues by considering how patterns and compound curvatures enable natural forms to be visible, and related to the dry intelligence of optics and mechanics. Therefore, achieving a memory of the path it has traversed. 

With the many angled and geometric shapes that are caused by glitches, flaws in digital images reference back to natural structures. 

Although digital photography has drained the need for water, since there is no longer a need for a darkroom with chemicals, photography retains a sense of fluidity in the way that it has changed its shape, adapting to new technology and vernacular. Furthermore, now that the digital image is projected onto our screens by using light, photography is even closer than ever to its beginnings as a camera obscura, which was used project light. In that sense, photography has always involved dry intelligence. The historical consciousness of photography has reverted back to its origin.


Wall, J. (1989) “Photographie et intelligence” / “”Photography and Liquid Intelligence” in Jean-françois Chevrier and a James Lingwood, Une Autre Objectivité / Another Objectivity, exh cat. (Milan: Idea Books for Centre Nationals des Arts Plastiques, Paris, and Prato: Centroids per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, 1989), pp231 -232