[Photohistorian, b. 1956, Australia, lives in Wellington, New Zealand.]
Everyone concedes that photography is now a medium of exchange as much as a mode of documentation.... photographing has become “the visual equivalent of cellphone chatter.”
Remember that image of Truman holding up the premature issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune declaring his defeat by Dewey? It is in the Corbis catalogue. Remember Malcolm X pointing out over his crowd of listeners, the airship Hindenberg exploding in the New Jersey sky, that naked Vietnamese child running towards us after being burned by napalm, Churchill flashing his V-for-victory sign, Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Patty Hearst posing with her gun in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army banner, LBJ being sworn into office aboard Air Force One beside a blood-splattered Jackie? Corbis offers to lease us electronic versions of them all; it offers to sell us, in other words, the ability to reproduce our memories of our own culture, and therefore of ourselves.
The main difference seems to be that, whereas photography still claims some sort of objectivity, digital imaging is an overtly fictional process. As a practice that is known to be capable of nothing but fabrication, digitization abandons even the rhetoric of truth that has been such an important part of photography’s cultural success.
All of us tend to look at photographs as if we are simply gazing through a two-dimensional window onto some outside world. This is almost a perceptual necessity; in order to see what the photograph is of, we must first repress our consciousness of what the photograph is.
[A digital snapshot] is meant primarily as a means of communication, and the images being sent are almost as ephemeral as speech, so rarely are they printed and made physical.
Human experience comes suspended in the sickly-sweet amniotic fluid of commercial photography. And a world normally animated by abrasive differences is blithely reduced to a single, homogeneous National Geographic way of seeing.
Most importantly, postmodernism comes down on the side of photography and power, not photography as power. As a consequence, photography continues to be conceived as an inconsequential vehicle or passage for “real” powers that always originate elsewhere.
Over the past two decades, the boundary between photography and other media like painting, sculpture, or performance has become increasingly porous. It would seem that each medium has absorbed the other, leaving the photographic residing everywhere, but nowhere in particular.