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

The Pencil of Error

Since glitch art relies on nonhuman errors being made, the case for authorship can be difficult to prove. In her abstract, Pasek (2017: 37) argues that:

  artists and theorists may need to relinquish a defence of the role of the artists...

Ever since it’s infancy, photography has struggled to define whether it is art, and now it is at odds with itself about whether digital photography can be compared to its analog predecessor. However, Pasek (2017) attempts to align the two due to their ‘black box’ methods of production. Whilst the analog photograph is the product of the magical chemical processes of the darkroom, the digital image is conjured up on a screen following a series of algorithms. Therefore, in both analog and digital methodologies, part of the creative process is out of the influence of the ‘artist’. 

In an attempt to rectify this situation, Pasek (2017: 37) presents a case for a post-liquid intelligence, arguing that:  

  artists and theorists may need to relinquish a defence of the role of the artist. 

Using Jeff Wall’s ‘Milk’ (below) as an example, Pasek (2017) illustrates how the digitising of an analog image alters its state. Whilst the original hangs in MoMA, there are many iterations of the photograph on the Internet. By being digitised, the very architecture of the image has been altered, possibly creating an alternative photograph. In some ways it depends on how we interrogate an image. Is it at face value, or is it about the process itself? 

On reflection, I find it interesting that Pasek has chosen one of Jeff Wall’s images to illustrate her point, especially when he is an acclaimed photographer, who is best known for staged photography.  The brick background reinforces the static nature of the image, whilst the exploding milk appears out of place in the scene. 

Pasek (2017: 49) attempts to realign the Photographic process by stating that: not wholly the photographer, it is also a curious dynamism between dry and wet intelligences.  

Instead of attempting to define itself as art, or who or what is responsible for the resulting image, photography needs to accept itself for what it is. Photography! 



Pasek, A. Photography and Culture. Vol. 10 - Issue 1 March 2017 pp.37 - 52


 Milk, by Jeff Wall (1984) 

Milk, by Jeff Wall (1984) 

The Digital Image in Photographic Culture

Daniel Rubinstein and Katrina Sluis (2013) base their two conceptions of the image on how photography is represented in two films: Titanic and Memento

In the penultimate scene in Titanic, the photographs that appear beside Rose on her death-bed illustrate significant moments from her life, ordered chrologically after surviving the sinking of the Titanic. If a person's life could be retold in sentences, then the photographs would be the full stops, exclamation marks and question marks. They represent significant, memorable events which can be viewed and compared with each other, chronologically. 

Meanwhile, Memento includes a series of polaroids, to help Leonard, an amnesia sufferer, identify his wife's killer. The photographs give Leonard 'points of access that allow movement from one temporality to another' Rubinstein and Sluis, 2013: 23). Instead of one chronological route through the photographs, there is a multiplicity of storylines.

Photo albums enable us to organise and catalogue photographic memories. If they are stored in a physical album, then they will usually be in chronological order. This enables the viewer to move forwards and backwards through time. Meanwhile, photographs which are stored digital are able to be accessed in a multimodal fashion. This can include clicking on links for different categories or typing in keywords to retrieve images with a corresponding tag. Furthermore, 'Timehop', on Facebook, pushes images taken in previous years. Distant memories are brought to the forefront of a person's thoughts.   

Rubinstein and Sluis (2013) refer to photography as a 'two-faced Janus', because it points in two directions. Firstly, one side faces the 'real world' people, places and events, transforming them into a two dimensional object. Meanwhile, the other side faces the repetition and reproduction of those photographs.  


The Digital Condition of Photography

In his essay, 'The Digital Condition of Photography: Cameras, computers and display', David Bate (2013, 78) sets himself apart from the critics and supporters of 'digital culture', by stating another position that:

enquires into and considers the specific 'digital' condition of the photographic image in relation to the social identity of 'photography' as a system for the inscription of visual images.

On reflection, I can see how different generations could attribute a different 'social identity' to photography. I can still remember receiving an envelope containing my photographic prints, after waiting an hour for them to be developed. The strip of negatives, included in the packet, was a reminder of the darkroom process that had been necessary to make the exposures. There was always a sense of excitement to look at photographs, which had been taken so long ago, that it was a surprise to see what they were. There was also a sense of despair when some of the prints included quality control stickers because they were blurred, underexposed or overexposed. I wonder how many moments have been consigned to the bin, unseen again. 

Today's digital generation have never known anything different. After taking a photo, they can instantly review, save or delete it. They have an abundance of opportunities to capture the right image, which has the potential to be shared across the world. Today's digital society is drowning in a sea of images, which are being produced as quickly as water flowing from a tap. Bate (2013) recognises how the permeation of images across society blurs the distinguishing features of photographic practices.