In Our Own Image, 3rd Edition, 2010, by Fred Ritchin, New York: Aperture. ISBN:978-1-59711-164-5.
This book was originally published under the title, The Coming Revolution in Photography, in the early 1990’s and was revised and republished in 2010. Ritchin’s topic for the book is his concern for the future of photography as a result of the computer and digital revolution that is sweeping through photography, the media, and our society. Although this book was written right at the beginning of the computer and digital age for, much of his concerns still apply today. When he first wrote this book, digital still cameras were very new, expensive with low resolution and high memory requirements for their day. Although the computers at this time were desktop their screens were basic providing only text information, early VGA screens (video graphic adapter) were just becoming more popular for image display and the internet was hardly known of with the idea of websites yet to be developed. However at this time the writing was on the wall as to the changes to photography and how that was going to impact photojournalism, and publishing in particular. Ritchin was a photojournalist himself and had a clear idea how this would benefit some and take from others. He could not have possibly predicted the combination of the mobile phone and digital camera technology and how that would impact his industry by the second decade of the 21st century. Ritchin also includes the development of computer animation, which at the time of the book being published was still in its early stages of development; but the animation was already becoming more life like both in movement and photographic detail and again he discusses how this can impact journalism and the film industry as well as do good for aviation, medicine, engineering architecture, etc.
“Quantum Sense”…The digital architecture of discrete integers and pixels is not unlike the quantum sense of energy as existing in discrete packets. In quantum world there is not the same continuum as in a Newtonian one. Conventional or “analog” photography is analogous to the Newtonian perspective, whereas in a quantum world ambiguity reigns, distance is illusory, the observer becomes part of the event, and the only certainty is probability. This offers a conceptual space which provides digital photography many possibilities differing from the visible reality that photography celebrated, recorded, traced….The photography of the future will be able to explore a quantum sense, where existence is both solid and illusory. This kind of “writing with light” or photography, can draw links among people, animals, spirits, beings, objects, that the Newtonian world did not consider. We will not be stopping time but tracking it, not fragmenting space but enlarging it. (p.xx, Ritchin, 2010).
Scenes photographed in a straightforward way are presumed to have contained the people and objects depicted. Unless obviously montaged or otherwise manipulated, the photographic attraction resides in a visceral sense that the image mirrors palpable realities. Should photography’s relationship to physical existence become suddenly tenuous, its vocabulary would be transformed and its system of representation would have to be reconsidered. (p2, Ritchin, 2010).
Ritchin also points to how photography has always been a little pragmatic in relation to truth. He sites W. Eugine Smith who became famous for his photo essays that he produced for Life magazine. In one example was how Smith had produced a photo essay of life in a poor Spanish village, and in order to create interesting photographs for his publication he asked the villagers to go about their daily business but to exaggerate their behaviour for the camera. This was arguably both a truth and a non-truth but not exactly a lie and thus at the time was considered acceptable. (p,39 Ritchin, 2010) However, with the advent of digital manipulation Life have created some controversy by for example moving Pyramids to fit into a picture. Ritchin also points out that editorial has also changed, leaning more to a commercially dictated style and sites as an example modern photo essays that are more suited to the advertising sponsors concerns than the intended message of the story that may conflict, eg. “I Am A Coke Addict”, 1987, Life Magazine that tells a story of a coke addict and using photographs that imply a glamorous life style that suggests success rather than failure and socially unacceptable.
See also my blog, Reading Photographs, that I dedicated to one single chapter from this book.
2 thoughts on “In Our Own Image.”