In thinking about the future of photography, I’ve been wondering how the craft will evolve as post-processing tools become ever more powerful and our skills at conveying emotion through the use of color, tone and contrast match the sophistication and subtlety of the available technology. I found some interesting parallels between photography and music in a transcription of a lecture Brian Eno delivered at the New Music America festival in 1979. In it, he demonstrates how the process of recording music transformed the art from transient, performance-based medium to one that is permanent and frequently a creation of the studio and mixing board. Improvements in recording technology opened doors to new types of music creation. Some artists, like Brian Eno, create their work entirely in the studio, a musical composite if you will, from pieces of music performed, recorded, spliced together and recorded again.
“It [multi-track recording] also gave rise to the particular area that I’m involved in: in-studio composition, where you no longer come to the studio with a conception of the finished piece. Instead, you come with actually rather a bare skeleton of the piece, or perhaps with nothing at all…
It puts the composer in the identical position of the painter – he’s working directly with a material, working directly onto a substance, and he always retains the options to chop and change, to paint a bit out, add a piece, etc.”
Advances in image post processing, from sophisticated deblurring to the ability to easily insert 3d CGI objects into a 2d scene, the malleability of a photograph begins to match Eno’s description of “working directly with the material.” I find this tremendously exciting, though I know, it scares the hell out of those who look at the primacy of an original, unadulterated photo as paramount to the craft.
My hope is that as our craft evolves, we’ll be better able to look at using the tools for what we can say with them rather than the polarized, almost fundamentalist philosophies that many hold today. After all, documentary photography has never been more vibrant, despite the proliferation of movies like Avatar or Transformers, where entire scenes are generated on a computer.
For me personally, I’m trying to open my mind to what a synthesis of performance (the image capture) and interpretation (the post-processing) could look like. What would I use CGI for? What would it help me say? Our first clues can be found in the world of advertising photography where the need to create an arresting, evocative image allows for broad artistic freedom and creative license. (When it comes to retouching of people, particularly women, this can be taken way too far.)
It will be fascinating to see what comes of photography in the next 10 or 20 years. My hunch is we’re on the cusp of a renaissance in the art, particularly as more amateurs share photos online and build upon each other’s work and we see computational photography techniques become mainstream.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Eno that I feel encapsulates a philosophical approach toward this new type of photography. Although we don’t have the same temporal aspect of a still photograph, the essence of the quote, to me, remains the same.
“Naturally, all of these things are variable throughout the entire course of the music. These are the kinds of things that you, as a listener, don’t generally notice; some of them operate almost subliminally – they are the ambiance of a track, not the obvious aspects of the track. Those are very much the things that traditional production is concerned with. And they allow you to rearrange the priorities of the music in a large number of ways.”