And God Created Photoshop!

Excerpt from Paul Frash, The Image Factory. Consumer Culture, Photography and the Visual Content Industry:

“How, if photography is itself an agent of disenchantment (of the visible world), can it be amenable to disenchantment by digital technology?
The answer lies in a paradox of modernity described by Don Slater, in which the visibility so central to scientific validation and technical demonstration is also necessarily one that inspires belief. Hence scientific demonstrations, for example, do not simply furnish visible experimental ‘evidence’ but

take the form of social events shaped into complex cultural forms, with highly dramatic and spectacular qualities. The problem is that as cultural forms these spectacles move in the opposite direction from the disenchanting mission of modernity: in the very process of making public the disenchanted facts of the world, they can be re-enchanted through visual spectacle. (Slater, D., Photography and Modern Vision. The Spectacle of “Natural Magic”, in C. Jenks (ed.), Visual Culture, Routledge, London, 1995, p 223).

The spectacular quality of science involves creating ‘an audience for modernity, (for the consumption of modernity as a spectacle)’ (ibid.: 226), before whom scientific technologies both make nature wonderful and, in their mastery of nature’s laws, become wonders in their own right. These technologies are for Slater a form of ‘natural magic’, since ‘the power of science and technique at the height of their rationality appear to us (who do not understand them) as a new form of magic’ (ibid.: 227).

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(…) As I have said, new digital technologies, by dematerializing and reconfiguring the photograph before our eyes, by allowing for our absolute mastery over its every particle, disenchant photography just as photography disenchanted the visible world.

Hence stock photographers and agencies are almost completely unperturbed by ethical considerations that might arise from their own use of digital image manipulation technologies (as we shall see, they are less sanguine about the use others might make of them), and they are almost overwhelmingly overawed and enchanted by the power of these technologies. This combination of mastery and miracle is nicely encapsulated by Patrick Donahue, former Director of Photography at Tony Stone Images, who noted that in the late 1990s 80–90 per cent of the photographs they promoted had been digitally manipulated. ‘Adobe didn’t create PhotoShop,’ he said. ‘God did’ (Photo Expo East ’98, 31/10/98)”.

(Paul Frash, The Image Factory. Consumer Culture, Photography and the Visual Content Industry, Berg Publishers, 2003, p. 175-176).

The problem with this new demiurge is the ethical/deontological issue in digital manipulation. In the age of  claim of  freedom rights, I see a paradox of choice (see the TED clip – Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice), tribalism and a strong cultural/mediatic determinism. In the age of skepticism, I see a wide embrace of  destiny, as we can seen in the concepts of presentism, orgy, nihilism, simulacrum in the new contemporary mithologies (this concepts are illustrated in a lot of  SF movies, musical videoclips, Ads, etc., and visibile assumed by  the young generation, see Michel Maffesoli: Everyday Tragedy and Creation, The Shadow of Dionysus: a contribution to the sociology of the orgy, L’instant éternel. Le retour du tragique dans les sociétés postmodernes).

The pseudo-authonomy of art is covered with an art bureaucracy. The corporate artists creations have an economic/marketing reason but are recepted by consumers with consumer/soteriological expectations. If the images (popular culture in generally) is the actual opium of the mass,  who can save us from this tyranny of  visual pshichotropics? In this  dionysiac carnival, who wants to keep the balance between  aesthetics and ascetics, visual piety and pleasure? Do visual pathologies help us indeed to love,  learn and  live at highest performance?

Creation of an utopic view of life isn’t based, generally, on desfiguring our real lifes? Can it be that the cave from Platon´s myth is our postmodern mass hermitage, into parody of human condition in “postliterary analphabetism”?

Among other articles in this area, you can read my post (in Romanian) Inorganic flora – spectral views.

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