5. The fluid image

New questions, chances and potential

“The revolutionary aspect of digital photography lies in its fluidity. […] The restraint of the professional representatives, which can be illustrated on the basis of the strategic errors of Kodak, […] has an unexpected effect: it shifts the locus of innovation from the photographic sector to that of mobile telephony, which is gradually becoming the main arena of the new imaging practices.”1 (André Gunthert)

As already with Roland Barthes, the image science analyses of André Gunthert primarily refer to documentary photography. He assesses the medial revolution positively and points out the new possibilities of the “parasitic image” and documentary amateur photography with the help of the smartphone, which, in the case of current events, is able to undermine the messages of the professional news broadcasts and to autonomously publish news on parallel channels. At the moment in which the population begins to place the media, controlled by moguls and state apparatuses, in doubt, the dialogic images make the democratic potential of participation, of dissent and of the formation of alternative opinion accessible. Similarly, Vilém Flusser also saw new perspectives in photography when he spoke hopefully of the “possibility of freedom, and thus of giving meaning, in a world ruled over by apparatuses”2. According to Gunthert, the camera was never the transparent mediator of the real. The camera is “More of a signal box than a mirror.”3 With a view to the well-nigh unlimited possibilities for the digital post-processing of image data, it is primarily these amateur recordings, and not those of the professionally edited news media that gain in importance, and which he presents as exemplary. Nonetheless, important is to not comprehend the medial availability of amateur photography as competition with the culture business, but instead as an expanded field of individualised, societal discourse: “Evident (however) is a more complex media landscape, within which interaction with cultural-industrial production is constantly taking place in the form of dialogue”, according to Gunthert: “The digital economy encourages not only production in the mode of the remix and redistribution. Much more than this, it establishes compatibility for appropriation as a characteristic and criterion of cultural assets, which are only worthy of attention when they can be shared.”4

When one wished to attract attention to one’s photographic work in the age prior to digitalisation, one had to offer the material directly to the distributors of the image production and enter into discussion with them, but not everyone was given an appointment. There was also the possibility to show paper images and artist books in exhibition spaces, but this in turn demanded a certain adaptation to established frameworks and social settings. In this way, societal groups and individual persons have always been excluded from the public discourse on photographic images. Those excluded can now show and discuss their photographic works independent of the institutions. On the one hand, the competitive pressure increases for professional photographers with the social networks and image platforms, but opportunities for a new reciprocity arise at the same time, for alternative discourses between the sexes, between old and young, the healthy and sick, between cultures and religions, which jointly map out the participatory potential of digital images. We are called upon to utilise the possibilities of the fluid image to move out into the open, to share unforeseen perspectives and stimulate alternative discourses. Successful photographic projects in the post-digital age will be those that create empathy and trust, or perhaps deep-seated mistrust, and thus enable a change in perspective. Photographers working professionally are also called upon to expand their horizons with the help of the social image channels and to examine their perspectives when viewing. Novel and surprising project ideas can be developed in this way.

“I even believe that the photographer will become even more important as an author. This is because it is first of all the different photographic signatures and attitudes that make the newspaper polyphonic and unmistakeable. It is also a sign of quality. Newspapers shouldn’t sell themselves in the bargain bin at any price with cheap image material.”5 (Malin Schulz/ art director of the ZEIT weekly newspaper)

Our human curiosity to discover the world with the eyes of photography, to comprehend it anew and to gain legible souvenir photos that look to the future is not changed by digitalisation. It is just that the new pictures are today primarily understood as “images” of an interested authority or of an individual project. Photographs like those forecast by Vilém Flusser are thus no longer records of the present, but instead images that place themselves in front of reality. They are understood as individual “imaginings” in the context, comparable with texts that always correspond with an editorial framework and can be flexibly manipulated due to their structure. The “photographic” offers and debates more projects, projections and images as traces of a purportedly collective past.
Reporters, creatives and artists who today express themselves “photographically” are of necessity active in the fields of computer graphics or computer art.

(text/artworkBirgitWudtke©2020)

 

1 Gunthert, page 16, 19
2 Flusser, Vilém: Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie, European Photography ed. by Andreas Müller-Pohle, Edition Flusser volume 3, Göttingen 1983, page 73
3 Gunthert, page 29
4 Gunthert, page 103+104
5 Malin Schulz interviewed by Anna Gripp: Dekoration machen schon zu viele. Es geht uns um Inhalte. Photonews 3/18, page 11

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