Fig. 1. Walker Evans, Katherine Beaton’s Table, Nova
Scotia, 1971. Gelatin silver print, 19.4 x 19.4 cm.
Director’s Purchase Fund. 1971.112.23
Yale University Art Gallery
The objects, lines, and light in the photograph create a dance between inside and outside forces, not unlike what it feels like to inhabit a body. Viewing the prints of great photographers doesn’t make it easy to leave the gallery and make pictures that are as simple and important, in their seemingly effortless manner, but at least I can better understand the goal. And that, as they say, is half the battle.
We are students of photography during the most important technical transition in the history of the medium. The digital revolution is ushering in many possibilities and questions, beyond the one that we are often asked: “So, are you shooting film or digital?” (The answer, if you’re wondering, is both.) When the substrate of photography is pixels and the act of editing and printing is processed through a computer, still photography is suddenly closely related to video and sound (not to mention graphic design, the internet, and everything else formed by zeros and ones). The potential for moving, speaking images within the dialogue of a lens and digital-based art form is like discovering a hidden room, full of possibilities, still under your own roof.
As recent graduate photography critiques and thesis exhibits have shown, many students in the program are choosing to employ a variety of pixel-based mediums at the same time. Working with still photographs, moving images, and sound is not a new idea; photographers like Robert Frank have been using multiple mediums to tell stories for years. What is new, however, is that all of these techniques are written into the same machine. Viewed next to each other on a monitor, two images, one still, one moving, are no longer the cousins they used to be, related but sprung from different parents. They are now siblings, stepping out into the world with their own personalities, but composed from the same DNA.
While we are navigating choices about whether to shoot still pictures or video, digital or film, to make traditional prints in the darkroom or scan film and output to ink-jet printers; while we are considering what level of manipulation we wish to participate in; and while these are important issues involving working with a medium in flux, they are generally not the choices that determine whether our photographs will stay out of that trash can Dean Benson has warned us about. We are still faced with the historical question of what to photograph, where toplace a camera in relation to that subject, and, essentially, how to best describe, by photographic transformation, what is in front of us. This is true even if our subject has been completely formed and fabricated by our own imagination. >>