Essay: Digital Photography: A Different Media

This will hardly be an essay that most people at this point and time will agree with. Nevertheless, it is how I feel, based on what I’ve seen and done over the past few months. There is an underlying animosity towards digital media and computers in a great deal of the traditional artistic community (photographers included), much in a similar fashion as there was when photography was introduced. This is further exacerbated by the unwillingness of the photographic community to accept digital photography in the same fashion that it did with film. They consider it to be “modified” from the original print, meddled with and thus relegated in general to digital awards. My hypothesis is that perhaps they are not entirely incorrect. Digital photography in many ways is a different medium altogether from film.

Digital Photography is a multistep process. Like film, it involves a camera. Like film, it involves exposing a sensor (film being the sensor in film’s case). They both record an image. But really, they start to diverge at the point of recording the image. In one case, it involves an emulsion, light sensitive chemicals recording the image displayed. In the other case, however, it records it as data, collecting the color information for a particular point. While the image may look the same in the end, the process itself is the beginning of divergence. For instance, because of the difference in recording method, it is possible to counteract the reciprocity factor of film to do multiple or extended exposures on the same piece of film, to great effect. With digital media, that just isn’t possible: once a sensor is saturated with data, all that is added from an extended exposure is noise. It is VERY difficult to get an extended exposure digital image that is not noisy to the point of making the image unusable. Because of this, you simply cannot do multiple exposures in the same shot with a digital camera. At least yet — I’m sure a method at some point will be discovered.

We persist in treating digital photography as the same as traditional photography, because of the similarity in output. But technically, there is a great deal that can be done with digital photography that is unique to the medium, that doesn’t get touched upon, because of this mindset. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that there is a difference between a cyanoprint and a photograph, and likewise, there is a difference (albeit more subtle) between a digital image and a photograph. There is data within a digital print that could be used to great effect, if the appropriate tools were created. Instead, though, we restrict ourselves to trying to get it to look as much like a traditional photograph as possible. What about applying ourselves to finding ways of getting the images to look like various painterly techniques? The information is there to do so, we simply have to elect to do it.

I suppose what I am trying to say, is that I would like to see digital media not put in the corner in the art community. If people would stop being so arrogant and close-minded about it, they would see that it has as much validity as an artistic medium as any other. It is what is DONE with the medium that matters, not the medium itself.