Truth in Digital Photography
Though the darkroom has faded into the background with the advancement of digital photography, there has been a resurgence of process based photography especially in the realms of "Fine Art". The truth that used to exist and was inherent to the medium has vanished.
The birth of photography came with the daguerrotype, an image made on a silver-plated surface, named after it’s inventor Louis Jacques Mande’ Daguerre in 1839. However, this was not the only form of photography to exist at the time. Though Daguerre is generally accepted as the father of photography, he was not the only person working with light sensitive materials at the time. Two other forms of photography also came into existence in 1839 which were invented by William Henry Fox Talbot. One of which involved a camera and the use of light-sensitive paper, which is what is utilized in the photographic darkroom still to this day.
There are a multitude of reasons why analogue photography should not be so readily dismissed. According to Matthew Biro, “Closer analysis, however, reveals that the divide between analogue and digital practices is not as strong as it initially appears, and that truth in photography depends on multitude of contingent as well as non-contingent factors.”.
Truth as far as photography is concerned is the burden of the medium. For analogue photography, photo manipulation was nearly impossible. The truth of whatever was being shown was evident, in theory. With the coming of digital it became harder to discern where the truth was, if it existed at all, in today’s image. Unlike most other art forms the growth and expansion of photography is completely dependent upon the advancement of technology. It has become increasingly accessible to the masses simply because of its ease. Biro says that because of the “rapid adaption of digital technologies in photography since the 1990’s”, the medium of has experienced a wearing away of the “truth” that photography was once known for. The viewer must now, more than ever, be aware that what he or she may be seeing may not be based in reality at all.
Biro goes on to cite Bernd and Hilla Becher and their use of analogue photography to show that the archival quality of analogue exists in a capacity for truth where digital never can. The Becher’s document locations before they are radically transformed or destroyed. By doing so with analogue photography they ensure the viewer that what they are seeing is indeed real. This offers a sort of redemption that digital cannot. This security that analogue photography offers it’s viewers happens because it is more readily believable than that of a digital image. Most viewers believe that silver gelatin negatives cannot be altered. At least without a helping hand from the technological advancements of today.
According to Corey Dzenko, “Digital photography challenges the historical belief that photography is a representative of reality.” Dzenko goes on to describe the relationship that begins to form between digital photography and its loss of its inherent truth. He says that because the transformation the digital photograph loses it tangibility and therefore it’s basis in reality.
For example, take any photo presented as an ad in a magazine and the effects they have on most consumers. If it is a beauty ad the consumers are more likely to trust the image as truth, without considering that because it has more than likely been digitally produced, it is then not based in reality. Most digital images produced for advertisement have been retouched, as that is an industry standard and those who produce those images count on the fact that the viewer believes things that they perceive in their reality.
Dzenko talks about photography more generally and its connection to the object being photographed. He says, “Digital photography and especially its apparent invisible manipulability, destroyed the photograph’s privileged connection to the object.”
. He goes on to state that the death of the mediums inherent trust has evolved into more of a representation of what was instead of telling the absolute truth about the object recorded. Photography today exists in the metaphorical purgatory of today’s society. The public has to come to realize that the “inherent” truth once synonymous with the medium has begun to fade away with the coming of the digital age.
Analogue photography just doesn’t seem feasible when examined from a point of efficiency. The film has to be loaded, developed, and the images then printed. The whole process takes much longer than that of digital, not to mention it is much safer. But there’s something to be said about the aura of the physical nature of analogue photography. Dzenko says, “This borrowing results from the viewers’ desire for a direct, or seemingly natural, connection between representation and reality.” Take for instance the iPhone applications that mimic the etchings and markings of process based photography. The aura of the analogue ways adds a legitimate base for reality when viewing these digitally produced photographs. A base that exists purely because the old aura is borrowed and stands as a facade for the viewer.