This essay will be evaluating and researching with the purpose on answering the question, ‘What is the relationship between novelty and/or the new and the digital?’
Many critics and audiences have stated alternative definitions of the so-called ‘digital age’, however, the American anthropologist Faye Ginsburg, defines ‘the digital age’ as, ‘initially had the shock of the new, it now has become as naturalized for many of us – Western cultural workers and intellectuals – as a temporal marking of the dominance of a certain kind of technological regime, ‘the digital.’
My individual approach to this question will be by analysing how particular types of ‘novelty’ have affected art and photography, as they have seemingly been heavily correlated with this so-called ‘digital age’, appearing obsolete with the public. I will also be considering the potential future of the ‘digital age’ as part of Ginsburg’s ‘technological regime.’ As a result of the ‘digital age,’ contemporary art and art studies are continuing to become more digital but has the risk of becoming ‘the norm’ of self-expression, thus born into the main flow of the technological regime.
This approach follows on from a range of concepts I covered in my honours degree dissertation, which I relevantly completed in Fine Art. I analysed how, and in which ways reportage and journalistic photography is currently viewed by more contemporary audiences, or whom use high levels of digital media; and how the use of digital mediums are fundamentally used to convey a wide range of stories, subsequently becoming a trend.
David Campany is one particular critic and artist who views and explains how art has become a huge element of the digital phenomena. He describes that artistic movements are frequently correlated with film, media and theatre. I find his ideas highly relevant to this essay. Campany says, ‘Over the last three decades or so, art has become increasingly photographic. Why phrase it this way around? Why not say photography has become art? Because that would suggest a kind of unity in the medium when in fact photography has ended up in art in diverse ways, for diverse reasons.’ – David Campany, Art and Photography, Page 14
When Campany writes, ‘(Photography is) Unity in the medium’, this guided me back to a particular passage from Ginsburg’s quote, where she writes, ‘a temporal marking of the dominance of a certain kind of technological regime.’ I feel this idea of ‘technological dominance’ as a ‘regime’ has, in a way, been transformed, even misinterpreted, in contemporary culture.
In regard to the history of the image, the earliest photograph was captured between 1824-1826c, by French inventor, Nicéphore Niépce1
The process heavily involved chemical processes and large amounts of experimentation and is less common in contemporary societal terms.
However, considering the climate of digital and analogue cameras, as well as the digital media that accompanies this, the digitalised version of this process is currently sought after, with the creation of the ‘Diana F Digital’ camera first established in Hong Kong in the 1960’s. The ‘Diana F Digital,’ is described by many as a ‘toy’ or more relevantly to the context of this essay, as a ‘novelty.’ However, this is highly dependent on by whom and for how it is used. Whether this is socially, professionally or academically.
Moreover, regarding the essay’s question where I am analysing the relationship between the novelty and ‘digital media’. It can be understood that there are essences of unpredictability in the digital media, or even unreliability as companies in the midst of the revolution of ‘the digital age’ deem to manufacture evermore digital software. The ‘Diana F Digital’ for example is an entirely modern version of the 35mm analogue camera, mostly used by the younger generations, essentially because of the multi-functions the camera possesses, such as filters and the double-take effects. However, this would then beg the question, has the concept of ‘the digital’ ever changed, or merely, advanced?
The power of the advancements in digital technology and the relationship between the digital and novelty, Benjamin Peter writes ‘Ever since we evolved extensor digitorum muscles, ours has literally been what media theorist Teil Heilmann calls a “digital condition”: digital media do what fingers do.’ (Benjamin Peters, Page 94) We can gather from Heilmann’s phrase ‘digital condition,’ that the concept of digital is understood as being obsolete and frequently translatable, which makes sense if we consider that many photographs, news publications and books that covered many shops and houses within the past two decades are now situated predominantly online.
The concept of a printed book, photograph or even film (DVD) is rapidly becoming more and more unheard of to some. Many young people feel more comfortable by having these items on their phones or laptops, so they can access them indefinitely. This is considered as a novelty to many as this encourages a continuous circulation of digital media, with the empowerment of the internet being the main reason why people regularly use social media as a daily tool.
Furthermore, with the ‘aesthetical’ and ‘metaphorical’ image being such a critical element of contemporary society, being used for advertisements, film posters and stills, book illustrations and a plethora further, it is often a challenge to differentiate between art and commercialism, and the average lifestyle shots by the amateur photographer. It often comes down to how the photographer captures, engages and interprets the object.
In relation to the meaning of photography, the Photographer and critic David Bate spoke to Elina Ruka in a 2011 interview, and one quote which I found thought-provoking was, ‘I don’t need to take the pictures of them because I see them every day!” It characterizes the attitude, which is still widespread, but as the life has mediated for photography, it’s harder to see the world without thinking through photographs or movies. But I’m sure that people still think that photography is just Mickey Mouse’s habit.’ (Ruke, 2018)
Bate says that ‘pictures are widespread’ and ‘it is harder to see the world without thinking photography,’ There passage is key in the interview because the likelihood of becoming a full-time photographer in society today is descending, unless you are a creative freelancer. Images are circulated online sometimes the same location or time although captured from a different vantage point. These digital images may then be printed as posters, t-shirts or even shared indefinitely via social media, becoming an instant trend, thus a ‘novelty.’
Photography, as a digital medium is nonetheless highly contentious as a documenting process. It is a naturalised and everyday process embedding us with a tool to give us a certain power, as goes the saying ‘the world at your feet.’ Although it is then our choice for how this tool is used. It can be demanding to persistently be in possession of a camera. However, this can lead to a photographic obsession to follow the digital era leading to the world of artistic fascination.
Susan Sontag, who has the power to explain the meaning and rise of photography, profoundly writes, ‘Painting never had so imperial scope. The subsequent industrialisation of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.’ (On Photography, Page 5)
Sontag’s quote led me to consider how the role of art museums use ‘the digital,’ as a method of displaying or even advertising their collection has become an elitist trend. A new light has come above art museums as a great deal of the public would naturally expect to be greeted by either a high-definition cinematic experience or in further curatorial terms, a digital lightbox curated as a contemporary-style frame, such as the framing styles used by the Natural History Museums annual exhibition, ‘Wildlife photographer of the year’.
In addition, the ‘Modigliani’ exhibition at the Tate Modern included an entirely new feature, a Virtual Reality room, which gives viewers the experience of viewing Modigliani’s studio and house where he produced his stunning artworks all in 3D titled. This room is ‘The Ochre Atelier.’ This is a highly enhanced feature and provoked a few emotional, humorous reactions from the museum visitors because of the swift transition between viewing the paintings and this IMAX effect.
Virtual Reality was initially used for video games in arcades, giving young people more entertainment value with realistic sound and imagery. Moreover, VR has completely culturized, similar to the revolution of 3D television, used extensively for sport, but also for many cinemas. In this instance, the culture of virtual reality and other similar enhanced viewing software, it appears to be the ‘norm’ for art and film institutions to convey their content through digital software. Therefore, it will be interesting as to what digital platforms are in contention for the future.
Sontag writes further, ‘(Photography is) A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it; by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.’ (On Photography, Page 6)
It is clear that this notion of experience is crucial and how photography has formatted into industrialisation. However, digital media has the power to fundamentally portray the highly-regarded saying, ‘a picture is an essay of 1,000 words.’
There is sometimes the desire as a photographer or as voyeur to photography, to search for the perfect image and leading people to photograph everything to share your experience with others. Audiences enter prestigious art museums with the pre-conceived belief that they will witness a blockbuster exhibition. However, there is lesser thought for the time and thought-processes about the culture in the artworks but more desire to view a high-quality JPEG exhibited high on the wall ready to be captured by their mobile phone and continuously edited.
The relationship between novelty and digital media is based around how we approach the settings and functions of digital media, however it can be perceived that there is a vast volume of commercialist and humorous content on the World Wide Web lots being in response to the world of art, for example the creation of digital meme’s. The use of editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop and LightRoom has a heavy position in the discussion of the ‘novelty,’ merely because many people use this software to create, or edit, what they see as ‘the perfect image,’ or a satirical image.
From a personal perspective, I strongly object to the so-called ‘perfect image,’ because I believe art should be about persistent experimentation and research to express an idea about artistic concepts or movements.
Considering photography as an art in the past years, but also this idea of the ‘perfect image,’ one of the most influential and highly credited documentary photographers and photojournalists, Martin Parr, who is most famous for capturing real-life, intimate shots around Great Britain, writes, ‘In the 1970’s, if you were going to do serious photography, you were obliged to work in Black and White. Colour was the palette of commercial photography and snapshot photography.’ (Martin Parr, Page 75)
When Parr writes, ‘Serious photography is obliged to be in Black and White’, this goes back the analysis of the ‘Diana F Digital’ camera, as the Diana F camera famously captures contrasting tones and brightness in the images, much like the old cameras which were used in the early days of photography. However, photography in the 19th and 20th Centuries was used primarily for formal use, such as family portraits or photo-series’ portraying work life.
As some elements of Martin Parr’s documentary photography bears resemblance to the images produced by the Diana F, this is vital evidence that it depends on how digital medias are used, but even portrayed by the public and also media.
Parr’s photography has been exhibited in hundreds of exhibitions worldwide, but his notable work has been displayed in the Tate Modern’s permanent collection. For this project, he used a 35mm Nikon camera to portray his perception of working-class life in Britain. There appeared to be a connotation of mocking involved, because of the 1986 social class wars.
This mocking or humorous gesture can be witnessed within the style of photography that is produced by the ‘Diana F Digital’ and other similar contemporary film cameras. They function in the exact same manner essentially, except their physical aesthete has been updated to be in line with the fashionable marketplace of art and photography.
Also, the applications, Instagram, KudakPro and Hispstamatic are available to nearly every mobile phone user, available as a free download. Instagram and KudakPro have an online portfolio feature too and allowing users to network their images in the form of a website. This has deemed to be a highly popular platform for photographers as they can add hashtags to their posts for wider, global audiences. This is a popular element for businesses, although some people question how professional this is as oppose to the seemingly traditional action of curating their images in an art gallery.
Whilst considering online presences, Instagram is now one of the most popular photographic, social media platforms ever, with almost 1 billion users worldwide. It was only two years ago that Argentinian artist Amalia Ulman captured selfies in hotel bathrooms, boutique shops and her own bedroom, as part of a project titled, Excellences and Perfections. Ulman said, ‘I am conveying the fine line between artistic performance and photographic performance, and how young girls acquire security about their appearance via social media to feel more popular.’ (Amalia Ulman, ‘This is the first Instagram masterpiece’)
This project was initially frowned upon because of the sexual connotations involved, however, a number of Ulman’s selfies were exhibited in the Whitechapel Galleries ‘Electronic Superhighway,’ as the images were professionally titled and Ulman purposefully created the images to form a photo-story of a fictional young woman whom experiences real-life situations.
In modern society, thousands of young people post selfies, with the awareness that merely tapping the ‘like’ or ‘share’ button can achieve an outrageously high-level of followers, leading to a popular profile. Furthermore, Ulman explains, ‘The idea was to experiment with fiction online using the language of the internet.’ A vast volume of the internet’s language it could be argued is images, political news stories and satire. People use the search engine excessively and solely to enquire about an issue, whether photographically or using text.
This essay has concluded that the ‘digital age’ can be perceived as creating a ‘dialect for the internet and social media,’ as there appears to be too much internet, embracing an entirely new post-digital culture and new generation. Nowadays, the internet is everywhere, and everyone has access to the digital. This develops into a challenge for young people, photographers, cultural institutions and intellectuals whom publish their work. However, previous photographers have taken inspiration from painting and more traditional art practices, therefore photography and visual graphic has the opportunity to ascend the pedestal of the digital revolution.
Campany. D, Art and Photography, Phaidon, Great Britain, 2003
Peters. B, Digital Keywords: A vocabulary of information, society and culture, Princeton University Press, Great Britain
Sontag. S, On Photography, Phaidon Press, Great Britain, 1971
Parr. M, Martin Parr (55s), Phaidon Press, Great Britain, 2013