7

Characteristics of digital photography
THIS chapter aims to address a relative newcomer in terms of technical development, that of digital photography. Over the past ten years or so, with the increased spread of computerisation, digital photography has totally transformed some aspects of photographic practice. As we saw in The Guardian case study, some photographic traditions continue. For the photographer to be sent out on an assignment equipped with a camera loaded with chemical film-stock has remained common practice. However, back at the picture-desk, the situation has changed from how it was a few years ago, even though some areas of the profession have been affected little by digital media. For example, while most studios will employ the use of a PC, the computer functions in a subservient role within mainstream photographic practice. On the one hand, digital photography has its sinister aspects: for instance, George Orwell (1948) in his Nineteen Eighty-Four refers to ‘elaborately equipped studios for the faking of photographs’. On the other hand, along with other technological developments, it has a charm of its own: ‘The enchantment of technology is the power that technical processes have of casting a spell over us so that we see the real world in an enchanted form’ (Alfred Gell, 1992:44). And we find in all areas that technological innovation has dramatic social and cultural repercussions:

In all parts of the world the processes of modernization generally involve complex interactions of technology, commercial systems, government policies, population changes, and other factors. It is therefore practically impossible to assign a unique ‘causal efficacy’ to any one element such as a technological device.

(Pelto, 1973:165)

However, as we saw in our consideration of the invention of the medium itself, photography was intrinsically bound to the cultural climate of the time. Whether we are considering the introduction of snowmobiles in the Arctic (Pelto, 1973), or the integration of today’s virtual reality systems in the mass media in our post-industrial culture (Loeffler and Anderson, 1994), we can be sure that we shall not be encountering a simple relationship of cause and effect. We shall need to develop new ‘survival strategies’ (see Postman and Weingartner, p. 171, of this volume). This chapter aims to address questions concerning the nature of digital photography:
What is it?
What does it mean?

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