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Aesthetic Concerns: ls Photography Art?
ernists' emphasis on the impossible, on what we cannot know, threatens to leave us
paralyzed and unable to react to the world's injustices.sa susan Sontag, for example,
when faced with war, devasration, suffering, and death in 2003, writes angrily about
the "fancy rhetoric" and the "radical
cltrical spin" she associates with the writings
on reality of two French writers: "Guy Debord, who thought he was describing an
illusion, a hoax, and of
Jean
Baudrillard, who claims to believe that images, silu-
lated realities, are all that exists now." The ravages of wars make sontag reject post_
modernist assertions that everything is mere spectacle and all that we have are
representations.
To speak of reality becoming a spectacre is a breathtaking provincialism. It uni-
versalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich
part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment . . . It as-
sumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that
there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify
,.the
world,'
with those zones in the rich countries where people have the dubious privilege
of being specrarors, or of declining to be spectators, of other peoples pain, just
is it is absurd to generalize about the ability to respond to the sufferings of
others on the basis of the mind,set of those consumers of news who know
nothing at first hand about war and terror. There are hundreds of millions of
television walchers who are lar lrom inured to what they see on lelevision.
They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.Bs
Digital lmages and Aesthetic Concerns
The technology that forms the digital image is intrinsically different from the chem-
ically based photographic image. The digital image exisrs as nqmerical information
and does not necessarily have to be represented as a physical entity. The computer
stores and processes information, such as an image, as a set of instructions known as
binary code and displays it on a screen. This code, like a light swirch, operares in rwo
states, on and off. The use of binary code allows the digital image to be easily manip-
ulated and stored.86
Examples of aesthetic uses of digital technology in the production of expressive
images abound: see, for example, "The digitally liquid, melting imagery" made by
Jeremy
Blake for a DVD calledplanetwaves (see
Color
plate
25). The DVD is a
posthumous visual tribute with narration to Ossie Clark, a British fashion designer
to "swinging London" in the I960s and I970s who was murdered by his lover in
1996. According to critic Edward Leffingwell, Blakes
.,g-minure
ioop
-orph,
through photographically derived, computer generated and hand-pai.nted images
evoking the pharmaceutically
enhanced ups and downs of clark,s fast-lane life.;87
The critic tells us about the digital making of the imagery as parr of its aesthetic and
resulting expressivity, and sees no need to further discuss ramifications or implica-
tions of the digital process.
nal
.A
rhy
rnd
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the
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ise
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d-
ChapterT
o PhotograPhYTheorY
Similarly,
when Sontag interprets Jeff
Walls digital image of Russian soldiers
in
Afghanistan
(see
plate
a)lshe feels no need ro discuss its technical
production
or go
inro the ramificarions
oi it U"lng a digital rather than a ftaditional
photograph'
She
does tell us that the photog'uphi'
fictional' clearly an importantbit-of
contextual
in-
formation,
much more *!o"u'1t,
in her thinking'
than telling us the details of how
the photographer
constructed
the image Sontag gives more import to its meaning
and effect.
Although
wall,s fictional image could have been made by photographic
means
otherthandigitaltechnology,manyphotographicexpressionsareuniquelypossibie
because of digitai technology,
and many artists are exploring the expressive
and con-
ceptual possibilities
of digitized lmagery'
Andreas
Gursky .,thL-""' his Lrge-scale
photographs
-(see
Color Plate 14)
through
digitai means' Genera\
his photographs
appear to- be realistic and unma-
nipuiated.Lookingatthem,*u"ywo'ldlikelynotknowthattheyaredigitaland
enhanced.Theimagesareaestheticallycrispanddetailedwithloadsofinformation.
Most viewers
knowledgeable
about photography
do know that they are digital im-
ages, but the informati"on
does not seem to ie essential
to their understanding
of
Gurskysexpressions,lfviewersafenotawareofdigitaimanipulationsinGursky,s
photographs,
no harm is likely to follow'
one o[ Gursky,s
images, stochhorder
Meeting, Diptych,
is two large panels of digi
tally convened
figures thu""p"'""t
a meeting;f
many executives
from large and in-
fluentialGermancorporations.Uponcloseinspection,onecaneventuallydetermine
thatthescenecouldneverexistinreality.AsdescribedbycriticEdwardLeffingweil,
the image shows
"a rapt and ghostly audience
that fans out in seats ranked along the
diptychs
base. Their ii"t' oi'lghi l"ud t'p*utd to a disconcerting
central mass of
snow-encrusted
granite. Assembled
gloups of corporate
leaders seated at long tables
arerangedabovetheaudienceaSthoughsetintothemountainorsuspendedinsur'
realistic space.,,
The assembled
executives seem to wait for some
"corporate benedic-
tion so the business
of their convention
might begin. Their names appear before
them on plaques. A cheerless row of decoratiie
geraniums
extends
along the base of
onesection,andi'ernsalonganother.CorporatelogoshoverlikePentecostaltongues
in a cloudless
sky above.,,8d wh"th", one is aware of the technology
Gursky used to
make the image seems irrelevant. Seeing that it is a fabricated
image suffices to know
rhar ir is ficrion with an expressive purpose.
The imporUnt
expressive
point is that of
a fi.ctional metaphor
and not how it was made'
Computertechnologyallowsartiststomakenewimagesandstatements,unavail-
abie without ru.f, t".f iotogy' For example'
Thomas
Ruff
(see Color Piate 22) appro-
priated Japanese
comics lianga)
and animated
cartoons
(anime) from the Internet'
creating
"estheticized, soft-focus photographs
downloaded
from the lnternet' alter-
ing them to achieve compelling ait work, at several degrees of separation
from their
source." Thus, througn totp'itt' technology'
Ruff was able to "mark new stages in
the appropriation,
alt-eration and t,u,,,fo,*utions
of otherwise
ordinary images',,8g
SOME
rieswi
most i
(digitr
seen I
inters
photq
Photo
creasE
ilarl$,
of d*r
Ov
temP(
ethica
grour
p:inri
to Cn
are
-n
On
Craph
h€ht
multi
rure t
sandl
rl-hicl
gmpl
ihetfo
so rn
lw
TI
It eq
allpl
ETH
\[an!
beh.
seel
ple, I
ggn-
W
l
j
Ethical
Concerns:
Are
photographs
Moral?
::ffi[:floNs
AB0uT
DtcITAL
tMAGEs-
Any manipularion
of a photograph
car_
m.s,imp.r,"",4lltiH,":iTiilt*:il*"ljr*:ff
:i#Tj:il,ffi
(digitally
and otherwis.)
u., ptrorog;;,
"r.
generarly
not problemaric.
As we have
if,1?;illil:];il
.n,0".
z o., a"",..in,1,,,1orv
"
o;;,;.*".*n is made
may be or
pho,ograph','";;.ff
J*il::*T:,1:::'*;,1,nil'*t.;*.:"J"1,.Ii:;
Photoshop
in his makin
t.t
u"ttiTiri"*an
at the vanity)(see
color
plate
4) to in_
crease
our understanding
and appreciation
of the ,-"g.
""arolir.ic
presence.
sim-
ilarly,
one can gain
u"rth"ti.
t"rtrt
il"ilppreciation
through
,".nrri.ut
knowledge
of darkroom
monuges
made
byJerry
u.lr*urr., (see plate
13).
,"-oo::;l.'l,rTXTl*1T,"liili:llk*:"*
uersmann,
and a hosr or others
con-
e thi ca r g.o u' d,
; t o.""rr".,
s o m e rhi n ke rs rt"":il[:
:#:"",
;T
:i:ffi:TT::ffi"
rI
il:;,l,t, ff;t|in"'
Edward
*"i""
l::.i.0":"-.-oi'"",**ons
as pseudo-
to Crewdsona
b".un.o
Woodwardjudgesloel
ster"*roioi"ari"ohs
to be superior
are,,,ear,,u.,o.."",l',.#:::i*l;L."",,fi
;"n;*il**.u:tter,sternrerd,s
ontology
epistemology
""a
.rt r.ll"."ito
suffer
signm.urrtrf
,in.n
some
photo_
ff ii',::*:,';15,:11,ffi:#: : *:''n
.'"'*".1'
i"."
-?'L
0', in ra c t a re
multipriedcariboul=.b,u,g.",.]*r";."#,;JFi.::*rr"rt?#rrr',Tffi
i{a
ture book'
Migrations'
rrr
J""g"J
*n*^;;;".,
thought
,o u. ."uriry-.How
many
ff :ltl.::T"":
;;;e
tnere
r r,, ;" ;rr;;-rur"
',ro.i,;;
;;;;
the rear
worrd,
grap hs when,
i n
'";i,lT',
:.
'1
:T#
ffi;: 1',
"T.,}"ffi:
mkt
Tillll-
theticizing
narure
byaltering
t, *il l*0r",
technorogy,
his photographic
practice
would
probabry
not have
aroused
u.rg.,
*d resentment.
Thus,
a key question
is not
;:#tt":,:i:J.;',",f;
??:,i'jl1[#;$;.:'::n,';7-.r,dand.ur
The next section
offers
.r*trt.""rti"."iior*
or"tnr.ar
concerns
in photography
It explicates
a wide variery
or th"orio
oii""*,..r"
and aestherics
that affect
how
all photographs,
digital
""0 "rn".*rr",
"r"^_"0",
understood,
and judged.
ETHICAL
CONCERNS:
ARE
PHOTOGRAPHS
MORAL?
tllHiJ
r,,?:.ll#l;:1Tj
:;;'
? :;1"".
o n c erns ab o u t e thi ca I a nd u n e thica r
graphic
imug.,
""Jil;;,j-;,:f,:::j
i-lo l"ttlt:."I
consequences
or photo-
o''n*.io?"J*i",i;il,i:1i#:3,".;l;:l,l';#Hlii1:i'*;,f
gun.
In on
photography,
soniag,"".l
in.,
,.u
,u^rlu
* ,;i;
i,
^
pr"du,ory
soldiers in
ction or go
graph. She
Ltextual in-
rils of how
s meaning
hic means
ly possible
e and con-
Plate 14)
nd unma-
lgital and
ormation.
ligital im-
mding of
Gurskys
ls of digi-
;e
and in-
etermine
fingwell,
rlong the
mass of
ng tables
d in sur-
benedic-
r before
: base of
tongues
'used
to
to know
s that of
rnavail-
) appro,
nternet,
:t, alter-
m their
ages in
t$es."89