Wednesday, March 12, 2008

does it all boil down to pixels?

"No one sees the barn," he said finally.

A long silence followed.

"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."

He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.
We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."

There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.

"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."

Another silence ensued.

[John DeLillo, White Noise]

Photographically speaking, I made my digital bet on February 2000. Considering the pseudo-electronic "object" I took home for the total cost of an average pay packet for beginners, as I was at the time, I can say for sure that I made an almost blind choice. When I dig into my old repositories to look at the images I took with that gear I nearly fear that digital images, namely their files written on a magnetic substrate, suffer from a kind of digital ageing as films do. Today all those images I used to think as nearly perfect looks like pixilated, full of artifacts and distant far from what was my good memory of them.
Seven years have gone since that memorable step into the highly integrated electronic technology and my way of interpreting this passion of mine has completely changed under several points of view. I have crossed different critical and, if I'm allowed, style phases, facing the inevitable risks to get back very often on my previous steps. Nonetheless, those changes were on my roadmap: a warranty that my photographical experience was, in a certain degree, evolving.
What, in turn, I could not imagine at all was my re-consideration of the values I was attributing to the technological aspect of this "game". I used to believe and, in part, I'm still convinced that instrumental excellence is a fundamental requirement to satisfy in order to better leave creativity operate without constraints. This is in principle ruling on almost everything, but today I'm no longer certain of technology weight in the good results achievement of the creative process. It helps in most cases, it's necessary in some others but never suffices.
I've been using a digital reflex in the last four years and, as time passes, I'm every day more convinced that all those pixels are in a certain degree a real burden. I won't talk about the benefits of having a large number of image points. It's common knowledge. Rather, I want to look at the other side of this glittering medal.
From an operative point of view those big numbers are exponentially widening our storage system needs, as well as downloading and processing times. Storage quota has its costs, so has the actual need to make backup copies of our data. Processing time, on the other hand, is demanding for ever faster and powerful computers: which is pushing us to reconsider a brand new calculator every three or four years. Image adjusting, at last, combined with the ever larger number of images we can stuff into our cards drives us to some kind of congestion from where we will never be able to get out with our hands.
All this is progressively shrinking the amount of time we can dedicate ourselves to handling, when not simply beholding our images. I have tons of directories where I put tens of rolls still to be opened and selected after two or three years. From a certain point of view, those images are as if they've never been shot. Hidden, in a safe place, forever.
Nevertheless, beside these kind of operative problems, which I still believe can be worked around with a proper (self-)education to select our shoots and preserve a limited number of captures, from a more personal point of view I have the perception that such a big number of pixels instill the erroneous confidence that everything can be fixed or rearranged later with some kind of post-processing tricks. What a mistake.
I perceive and practice my personal (useless to say: numerical) photographical process as a continuum that leads from something that I have in mind or suddenly sparks before pushing the shutter button, to an image that for different reasons I'm not able to expose in a different place than a computer monitor. I have made several attempts to have large format prints hanging on the walls of my office or living room; I've also been able to find people from different countries that asked a print or the bare file to print on their own but, beside these few cases, the only place where I've always shown my images has been the luminous rectangle of a computer monitor. Millions of native image-points shrunk down to a handful of merely a third of megapixels. A great potential of visual artwork that could be hanging on the white walls of big empty spaces reduced to a square of six-hundred pixels per side projected in the middle of a dark screen.
Once again I wondering if it all boils down to pixels, to technology or, rather, provided that I'm starting to look for a new camera, it's time to seriously reconsider the core values of this passion of mine.