4. On the challenges of the post-digital phase

Today, practically anyone can acquire high-performance computers, desktops, laptops, tablets at a relatively low cost, or at least a (used) smartphone. Thus, everyone has a camera and can take photos that can be immediately published and distributed. Access to the Internet, the creation of texts and communication with photos and videos is now possible for everyone with the smallest devices. This is also the intention of the manufacturers. Portals have long since developed that live from gathering data in order to transfer them into profitable projects. A photo often only serves as a carrier file for other data that are linked with the image file and are now used for algorithmic evaluations that detour around image copyright law.

More data are produced today than can even be read, and more photos are produced each day than in the first 170 years of the history of photography altogether. Photography has thus experienced a very pronounced economic depreciation: “It is a currency that has been excessively deflated.”1 Photos can be found for any conceivable image theme. These are provided in an encyclopaedic form by search engines and image databases. With the help of algorithmic image recognition processes and the image training of artificial intelligence, the successful image search will continue to be enhanced in future and become more attractive over the long term for distributors in the advertising, magazine, book and newspaper sectors. Digitalisation has serious consequences for the image industry; processes are simplified, databases are multiplied and prices fall. The new founding of private photo schools hardly seems compatible with the fact that ever fewer photographers are needed, as nearly unlimited access to digital image sources is now possible. Specialised photo labs and portrait studios have already disappeared for the most part.
Contrary to the positive emphasis on the democratic potential of the digital image, as well as the enormous and stimulating image diversity that has resulted from the digitalisation of photography, it is certainly the case that the career situation of photographers is becoming increasingly precarious in comparison with in the analogue era. The age of permanent positions is over and the daily rates that still applied for a commission in the analogue phase have practically halved for the same number of working hours.

Digitalisation generally applies as a job destroyer in the work areas that have been taken over by computers or machines controlled by computers, while new chances have also arisen for the most varied endeavours. According to a study,2 4.4 million jobs in Germany can be performed by computers. Interesting is that the potential for the substitution of designers, photographers and the producers of advertising is relatively low at 27.6 percent. A fully automated photo studio can of course carry out the work of several photographers more efficiently and affordably when the task is to, for example, provide images of laydowns/clothing for an online shop. The post-processing of these images can also be automated and need only be checked prior to publication.
However, this development can be evaluated positively, as this automated and repetitive work is hardly fulfilling. It did, however, secure the existence of photo artists who had just begun to establish themselves in the transition phase of digitalisation. All those who decide to professionally pursue photography as a career must first procure their equipment themselves and make ongoing investments. The daring decision to choose photography as a profession must be viewed with respect today.

In this sense, the following will elaborate the chances that the digitalisation of photography provides at the artistic level. These opportunities will reveal themselves when we give up or deconstruct conservative behavioural patterns and view digital photo graphics in media terms as different and distinguished from traditional photography. Here it is also apparently about more than a clarification of the term “photography”, which has become blurred due to the media transformation. Digitalisation initially changes the production method, and not yet the result in any recognisable way.
More photographs are taken today than ever before, although William J. Mitchell already spoke of the “post-photographic age” in 1992: “Digital imagers give meaning and value to computational ready-mades by appropriation; we have entered the age of electrobricollage.”3 The photo artist becomes a tinkerer. Mitchell thus emphasises a paradigm shift that is today so emphatically preoccupying many media scholars and art historians.
André Gunthert explains the new opportunities in the field of documentary photography on the basis of the digital “fluid image”. These will now be briefly pointed out and trenchantly emphasised.

(text/artworkBirgitWudtke©2020)

 

1 Pedro Meyer interviewed by Felix Koltermann, Photonews 12/19, page 22
2 https://www.wiwo.de/erfolg/beruf/studie-digitalisierung-und-arbeitsplaetze-welche-jobs-betroffen-sind/12724850-2.html, status: accessed on 18.12.2019
3 Mitchell, William J.: The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era, MIT Press, Cambridge 1992, page 7

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