As black and white were, and in many ways remain, the default on ‘authenticity’ in photography, certainly before and even now after the arrival of colour photography, so since the digital revolution in the world of the image, can we locate a similar realm of ‘authenticity’ such that we feel ‘it’ is natural for the technology involved. This is a deliberately provocative question in a world where the (excessive) reliance on Photoshop (PS) is often still regarded as fraud (documentary photographers are not supposed to use it) and yet the computer PS manipulation of the image is the industry standard for workers with the image… We would not normally separate the two – often regarding them as stages in a single process. However in a world where anything can be morphed into anything else, one such realm does suggest itself. A visual realm in many ways like the black and white experience; involving a restriction of palate, with a concomitant set of moods and a set of specific challenges… part of the nature of the digital image, as yet unexplored, but occasionally exploited by photographic artists, just as the blur and dazzle of traditional photography were appropriated - before the (automatic) default of digital tidiness made this one time ‘hazard’ an extremely difficult thing to deliberately (and creatively) employ.
Of gaps and rediscoveries in ‘official’ or normal, even normative, practice and production. A little like art before abstraction and music before noise - cooking of necessity has always reincorporated the ‘scraps’, the results are many of the world’s most loved dishes (carabonara, chaofan/fried rice, many salads and soups) from peasant necessity to haute cuisine no less. Then there are patchwork quilts and patched clothing. Perhaps most notorious are, the once banned, ‘augmented fourth’ (staple of blues, jazz and chromatic or augmented tonality) and the drip-painting of Jackson Pollack. All regions at once marginal, now ‘returned’ to use, ‘rediscovered’, and ‘natural’ or ‘authentic’; in the sense of a basic, intrinsic (if once ignored or even tabooed) part of the technology or cultural practice involved..
What region of the digital image does this? Once flash photography was de riguer for low light levels (with its flattening out of the image, its foregrounding and bleaching). But with the arrival of the digital image; a low level of light will suffice for most purposes… The grossness of flash (some foregrounding effects excepted) can be happily dispensed with. So what does digital night look like? One effect: the colour palate is progressively restricted (pretty much the same occurs at higher light levels as we move through bleaching towards white-out), a result of the machine struggling with the diminishing light levels. After passing through a nocturnal realm of moody blues and ethereal greens (none of which were achievable with flash or artificial lighting), we arrive at an altogether harsher zone. Here the image of night is made up out of light sources and their more concentrated reflection: the rest fades to black; red and orange (sometimes yellow) being the most prominent colours. Pure, warm and contrasting; like looking into a fire on a dark night – often coming in semi-abstract or even cubist-style blocks. Colours in this palate so rendered are ‘authentic’; not (only) because pre-PS , but because this offering of a particular and much restricted set of colours, tones, and textures are caused by the very lack of the light required by the digital process of recording reality. The response of a technology at full stretch. But a ‘true’ or ‘natural’ response nevertheless… A ‘second nature’ provided by the machine – its default, or bottom line. So, ‘authentic’, in terms of the technology involved (as all ‘authenticity’ as a product of a restricted cultural community, of the technology of identity, never really ‘natural’ – prior or apart from its particular cultural determinations). Natural in the sense of a function of the level of organization involved, of the organ or organism producing the effects in question (here an extension of our organ of vision and the meanings we distribute across the visual field). The second nature of a culture being transformed by technology.
Such images are recorded at the limit of the machine’s technological capacity, but an essential part of its ‘nature’ – such are the means of expression. Its uses pose a question for artistic production. Our reading of its meaning; the content of expression, the images signified content, is a matter for the viewer – each arriving with their very own highly customized view-finding apparatus…
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2013