Modern technology is transforming the photograph

Published 12th May 2017
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Modern technology is transforming the photograph
Written by Fariba FarshadLondon
Fariba Farshad is the Founding Director of Photo London. A fair that brings together the world's leading photographers and galleries.
As the great, already much lamented, art critic, presenter and writer John Berger said: "Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak."
A poet, a storyteller and a maker of images -- despite a brief dalliance with photography, he was principally a painter -- Berger knew, as he put it, that "this relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled." How we need him now.
For at least two decades I have been fascinated by the potential impact of technology on the creative process.
Whether developing projects based on the innovative use of technology within artistic practice or working to help artists and designers understand the possible uses of technology, I have always regarded technology as just another tool in the creative armory.
Given my own background it is thrilling to see the myriad ways in which today's artists deploy the creative potential of technology.

An iPhone generation

Our times are defined by iPhone images made in an instant. They can be powerful things yet, to reach back to Berger, as the very best photographers know, the finest photography is not merely a mechanical record.
 The images they make move and shape us in a host of unforeseen ways. They have been painstakingly made -- sometimes over days, months, or even years -- and they demand and deserve our attention.
But what happens when we can no longer be sure of what we're looking at? The various uses of digital technology in contemporary photography offer a series of flickering glimpses of the future possibilities.
They disrupt and comment on how images are produced today. They question how we interpret imagery in a world where proliferation of images online has given rise to endless questions about what is true or what is a manipulation of truth. And, indeed whether any of that matters.

The virtually real

Artists working with virtual or enhanced reality have begun to create brilliant digital worlds. 
Last autumn Shezad Dawood created an extraordinary digital world that was a mix of sculpture, neon, painting and Virtual Reality. 
This year's Whitney Biennial features "Real Violence," a shocking VR project by Jordan Wolfson, and the New Museum in New York recently presented "First Look," an exhibition that featured six newly commissioned digital artworks including "Man Mask," by Rachel Rossin, which transported audiences into scenes from a popular video game.
"Thresholds" by Mat Collishaw
"Thresholds" by Mat Collishaw Credit: courtesy mat collishaw
In January this year, the Royal Academy in London hosted "Virtually Real," a collaborative pop-up project between the virtual reality platform HTC Vive and the contemporary art school at the RA. Graduates Adham Faramawy and Elliot Dodd, together with third-year student Jessy Jetpacks, created hundreds of simulated worlds, where normal rules of gravity did not apply.
Now at this year's Photo London at Somerset House -- where the word photography was coined -- the artist Mat Collishaw will launch "Thresholds," a VR recreation of William Henry Fox Talbot's pioneering photography exhibition at Birmingham Public library.
 Collishaw's project takes the viewer back to 1839, a past that is so convincingly rendered that the audience will be able to walk around what appears to be the original space in mid-19th century Birmingham, observe Fox Talbot's prints and even hear a group of virtual Chartists protesting 'outside' the windows of the Library. They will even feel heat from the virtual fire in the fireplace.
Collishaw is far from the only artist using digital technology to alter our perception of reality. Dillon+Lee Gallery from New York will present the Turkish photographer Aydin Büyüktaş.
The images from Aydin's project "Flatland" literally bend reality -- his work uses 21st century 3D technology to playfully restage the once active debate between Flat Earthers and those of a more scientific persuasion.

3D art and holograms

At The Little Black Gallery, Rob Munday will present his ultra-realistic holograms and 3D lenticular photography. By utilizing unusual techniques Munday strikes at the core of photography as a craft, literally bending and transforming light to create almost unbelievable effects.
"Naturalium 1" by Rob Munday
"Naturalium 1" by Rob Munday Credit: © All images courtesy the artist and the gallery (IBASHO)
 Klemm's from Berlin is showing work by Adrian Sauer whose practice involves questioning the very fabric of what constitutes reality as seen through the photographic image.
Sauer engages with the mathematical formulation of digital images -- data that is assembled to construct a "realistic" interpretation of the world through reading light.
His provocative works may resemble example pictures traditionally produced by camera companies to relay techniques used to better understand light and color, but his pictures are created by combining pure manipulation with "concrete reality."
 The question that lies at the heart of Sauer's project highlights the complexities of digital photography -- recognizing the fake from the real. A real question for our times.
Kira Leskinen of Gallery Taik Persons uses a digital flatbed scanner to create her works for Scanographs. Digital scanners behave as cameras do, however they are usually fixed to one position and are more functional objects.
Through the use of this device, the artist is able to create beautiful abstract works, slowly dragging her objects across the scanner lens which "breaks" the data that is being captured by the light-reader. It is a disruptive act.
So technology is transforming photography, pushing the boundaries of the medium and asking provocative questions. Should we be worried?
On the contrary, instead of fretting, I suggest we enjoy this constant blurring of lines and the magical possibilities it offers. As critic Gareth Harris commented in the Financial Times recently "...falling down the rabbit hole into this digital domain is a trip worth taking."
Photo London is at Somerset House, 18-21 May 2017.