This small essay by Fontcuberta begins with the anecdote of a photograph taken in a digital photo booth in London in 1997, which allowed him to manipulate the image and include himself in the middle of the Spices Girls in the printed image. This serves as an argument to reflect on the possibilities of the digital image and its contribution to the aforementioned death of analog photography.
He highlights the ubiquity of digital photography and the displacement of traditional photography from traditional fields (press, advertising, scientific, family, travel, etc.) that has relegated to the field of crafts, with obvious advantages for the former: more practical, faster, more powerful, cheaper and cleaner.
Electronic photography is not a transformation of analogue photography, it is an entirely new category that introduces us to what we might call “postphotography”. By definition of digital photography we mean:
- Still images captured by a digital camera.
- Images captured by traditional methods and then scanned.
- Synthesis images that maintain a photographic appearance.
Not only has the chemical grain been replaced by the pixel, the most important transformation has operated in the change of role, it has gone from an “optical” culture based on the observation that dominated since the first third of the last century, to a new culture of the virtual and the speculative.
The invention of photography is the response of positivism to the need for a procedure that certifies the empirical observation of nature. The camera appears linked to concepts such as objectivity, truth, identity, memory, document, archive, etc. and becomes an instrument at the service of industrialization, colonialism, surveillance and control, etc…
The author wants to see in the pixel texture of digital photography a correlation with the processes where the whole is reached by the parts (each of the brushstrokes that make up a painting, or the strokes that make up the words of a written text -thinking similar to the one developed by Geoffrey Batchen, when he relates the digital with what is manipulated by our fingers. This places the digital image as the natural evolution of painting and photography as an accident in that evolution – in Fontcuberta’s words an “occupies”, a residual squatter of nineteenth-century techno-scientific euphoria. It therefore presents photography as an extravagance that allows the simultaneous capture of the scene on the surface on which it is projected. Analog photography inscribes and digital image writes.
This automatic inscription procedure allows traditional photography to achieve reliable analogues of the real world, minimally coded reflections, which have underpinned the belief in attributing documentary capacity to photography. When this sensation of automatism is eliminated from the technical procedure, its commitment to reality disappears and the connection with the referent is weakened: the photographic representation is freed from memory, the object is absent, the index evaporates.
The transgressive effect of the digital image is that under the same appearance of analog photography manages to infiltrate behind the walls of credibility to deliver the final blow: Create a fiction (Spice Girls) with the appearance of reality.
This change also operates at the reception level, where the public is familiar with these manipulation techniques. Materiality and information are two aspects related to the reception present in the photograph. The material aspect has varied considerably throughout history to the present situation. Digital technology has dematerialized photography, with different degrees of application depending on the context (in the archive the informative aspect (data) predominates and in the museum the object component).
Returning to the example of the photo booth, if we compare its use as a mechanism of reproduction or mechanical documentation of reality in its traditional version, to a playful and creative use in its digital implantation.
The article concludes with a small inversion of the argument: the power that the digital image gives to eliminate and repeat the errors, discards the creative capacity of the error that the surrealists praised so much.