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Themesicon: navigation pathPhoto/Byteicon: navigation pathPhotographic/Post-Photographic
Continuities and differences between photographic and post-photographic mediality
Susanne Holschbach

At the end of the 1980s through the beginning of the 1990s, photo curators, art and media theorists began to examine the significance of electronic image technology for the status and the practice of photography. [1] The rapid permeation of digitally processed photographs in the commercial and journalistic areas, the introduction of relatively high-performance and reasonably priced PCs, software, scanners, printers, etc., which made electronic image processing accessible to artists and amateurs as well, gave cause to speak of an epoch-making turning point: «From the moment of its sesquincentennial in 1989 photography was dead—or, more precisely, radically and permanently displaced—as was painting 150 years before.» [2]

However, the focus on the difference between analog and digital media, which in the second half of the twentieth century advanced to become the dominant difference in media history and theory, [3] conceals their common starting point in the nineteenth century and the radical turning point associated with the invention of photography: As the first technical imaging method, it ushered in theradical change between ‹old› and ‹new› media. In this sense, the media theorists Marshall McLuhan and Vilém Flusser, both of whom think in terms of generously measured eras, place photography at the beginning of the information age and the telematic society. In his anthology «Understanding Media,» [4] which was first published in 1964, McLuhan writes: «Photography was … decisive in making the break between mere mechanical industrialization and the graphic age of electronic man.» In his work «Ins Universum der technischen Bilder» (Into the universe of technical images), which was published 20 years after McLuhan's, Flusser establishes that «technical images are a completely new type of media, even though in many respects they may be reminiscent of traditional images, and that they have a completely different ‹meaning› than traditional images. In short: they are indeed about a cultural revolution.» [5] Both of them see the age of the computer as a consequence or a continuation of this ‹photographic revolution.› Following McLuhan and Flusser in this respect, this contribution begins with a return to the fundamental qualities of photographic mediality and their manifestation in the various ways

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Twentysix Gasoline Stations (Ruscha, Ed), 1967Every Building on the Sunset Strip (Ruscha, Ed), 1965Alle Kleider einer Frau (Feldmann, Hans Peter), 1974

photography is used and the discourse surrounding it. It is only from this media-historical perspective that one can comprehend what transformations the photographic dispositive undergoes in the course of technological change and how these transformations affect the media function of photography.

Automatic Recording

Daguerre and Talbot regarded their inventions as a chemical and physical process by which, in Talbot's words, «natural objects may be made to delineate themselves without the aid of the artist's pencil.» [6] What is being stressed is the immediacy of the image, the absence of an artistic rendering. The omission of this rendering, which is ‹prone to errors,› guaranteed truth to reality and objectivity. In writings on photography in the nineteenth century, this objectivity was time and again connected with the indifference and neutrality of photography towards its object, i.e. its referent. The automatic photo is not selective—it depicts all objects with the same care; it does not distinguish between important and unimportant, worthy or unworthy of being taken.There was a slogan used by contemporaries to move the equalizing quality of photography onto a politically progressive horizon: ‹All things are equal under the sun.› The qualities of automatic recording judged as positive became decisive for the use of photography for documentary purposes: in the preservation of historical monuments; in the sciences, criminology, and medicine—to name the central areas of the nineteenth century. However, they stood in the way of the recognition of photography as art. This is the reason that until far into the twentieth century, reference was still made to the creative means of photographers in order to justify their work as art. The intentional inartistic implementation of photography in the Concept Art of the 1960s and 1970s signified a transition in this regard: In order to deconstruct established art values, precisely those ways of using photography were taken up that could not be brought into line with their artistic ennoblement. With books of photographs such as «Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations» or «Every Building n the Sunset Strip » by Ed Ruscha and «Alle Kleider einer Frau» (All of a woman's clothes) by Hans Peter Feldmann, for example, these artists return

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New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (unbekannt)

to the photographic recording in the sense of a simple list or bureaucratic registration. Concept artists ‹mime,› so to speak, different ways of using photography—such as e.g. scientific documentation, chronophotography, crime scene photography, illustration, the photo report, shutter photography— and in this way present—often ironically—critical analyses of these usages.

While Concept artists refer to the superficial banality of photography, conceptional photography, which appeared at about the same time as Concept Art, relies on its documentary quality, i.e. on the reproductive output and objectivity of the photographic medium. Within this context, the return to automatic recording means the greatest possible technical quality combined with the withdrawal of the photographer in favor of the object (this was formulated in the introduction of the exhibition catalogue «New Topographics. Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape » in a way that points the way ahead; [7] because it exemplifies this photographic attitude, the book by Bernd and Hilla Becher is particularly worth mentioning).

The photograph as an index

In the twentieth century, automatic recording was given an emphasis that went beyond the objectivity of photographic depiction. In the photographic theory of the time, the characterization of photography as a ‹copy of nature› was restated using the sign theoretical term of ‹indexicality.› [8] Indexical signs such as the smoke of a fire, footprints in the sand and the like have a physical—one could also say causal (cause and effect)—connection to their referent. In this understanding, the photographic image is a ‹trace› or the ‹effect› of the object that was photographed: a print of the rays of light thrown back from an object onto a carrier material that has been made sensitive to light with silver salt crystals. Thus the photographic depiction of an object is at the same time verification of its existence, even if this applies to a past moment. Roland Barthes' formula for the certification of a past present, which for him constitutes the nature—the ‹noema›—of photography, is: «That's the way it was.» [9] Of course this quality especially predestines photography for its use in investigative surveillance and

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Tatorte (Sternfeld, Joel), 1996The Shadow (Der Schatten) (Calle, Sophie), 1981L’Hôtel (Calle, Sophie)

the securing of criminal evidence—uses that have been adopted by artistic photography in many ways (for instance «On this site» (Crime scenes) by Joel Sternfeld, or «The Shadow» and «l´Hôtel» by Sophie Calle). [10]

Photography's promise of reality, [11] which goes beyond realistic depiction, is based on this physico-chemically based indexicality: because it claims to be capable of verifying reality. In doing so, indexicality relates only to the «photographic act,» [12] the moment of releasing the image; all of the other factors that lend meaning to the photographic image—choice and choreography of the subject, processing the print, material and discursive contextualization—are blended out in the process.

Mechanical Reproduction

In early proto-photographic experiments, the search for a simplified process for duplicating existing masters was equally as important as the goal of fixing the camera obscura's images. As early as the 1820s, Niépce dealt with the transfer of engravings onto lightsensitive carrier material, which was then meant to serve as a printing plate. Talbot, whose positive/negative processprovided the prerequisite for what was in principle the infinite duplicability of photographs, also had in mind the production of «multiplying at small expense copies of rare or unique engravings.» [13] Indeed, the reproduction of works of art and historical monuments from throughout the world advanced to one of the most successful branches of photography in the nineteenth century. In his canonic essay «The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical ReproductionWalter Benjamin described the resulting consequences for the function of art as the loss of its aura: Outside of their context—released from the here and now—works of art lose their uniqueness as originals and thus their cultural value. Assembled in an «imaginary museum» [14] and disregarding their original function and integration into a cultural context, works of different origins and of different epochs can be compared as purely visual data (surfaces). This kind of comparison was first made possible by form analysis, thus establishing an aesthetics based on the history of style at the end of the nineteenth century. At the same time, however, the photographic ‹parity› of artifacts goes beyond the boundaries of disciplinary aesthetics: Aby Warburg,

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Mnemosyne-Atlas (Warburg, Aby M.), 1924After Walker Evans (Levine, Sherrie), 1981

who arranged photographic reproductions according to subject in the plates of his «Mnemosyne Atlas» [15] , made no distinction between antique relief and contemporary advertisement, and thus already pointed in the direction of visual studies.

The photograph as a multiple

The combination of mechanical reproduction with a mode of production based on the division of labor made the photograph into a mass-produced article in the nineteenth century. At the same time, however, the trouble-free duplicatability of the photograph as a product became a problem: The legal dispute over the copyright of photographs starts out from commercial photography, which needed to protect itself from the exploitation of its products—e.g. portraits of prominent figures or stereoscopic cards. [16]

However, the quality of the photograph as a copy implies more than just the mechanical reproduction of existing images—be it in the form of prints from a negative or rephotographing image masters. In connection with Walter Benjamin's essay on the work of art, the art theorist Rosalind Krauss sets out thatphotography «is a medium that directly produces copies, i.e. a medium in which the copies exist without an original.» [17] According to this understanding of photography, even the negative of a nature scene is already a copy: a reproduction of the depicted subject. [18] For Krauss, the explosive force of this photographic quality for art of the modern age (and of art reproduction in the twentieth century in general) lies in the fact that it undermines the concept of originality itself. [19] It was above all the «photographic activity of postmodernism » [20] that consciously took up this quality in order to deconstruct notions of (creative) authorship and the autonomy of works of art. In this way, the artist Sherrie Levine ‹appropriated› [21] icons from artistic photography simply by taking her own photographs of them (e.g. in the series After Walker Evans ), and in doing so attacked the auralization of photography, which had accompanied its musealization in the 1970s and 1980s. [22]

Mass Medium Avant la Lettre

Mechanical reproduction created the condition for the development of photography into a mass medium,

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whose hegemony was not forced open until the 1950s and 1960s with the advent of television. [23] It began in the 1850s with the distribution of portraits of prominent figures and stereographs, and experienced a further thrust in the 1880s through the beginnings of shutter photography and the illustrated press.

Facial society

In 1854 the photographer Alphonse-Eugene Disdéri patented a process that allowed taking several portraits in succession on one plate. He rationalized and reduced the cost of portrait photography in this way, which consequently experienced a tremendous boom. [24] The small-format carte de visite, the term for the cut-to-size portrait cards, were used less as a personal keepsake than for communicative exchange. Portraits of prominent figures, whose spectrum ranged from ruling families, writers, musicians, scientists and actors to demimondes, were especially popular. Collecting and looking at the cards became a parlor game that leveled off social hierarchies by juxtapositioning images that had been choreographed in a similar way. The portrait of prominent figuresanticipated the modern portrait of stars and was thus incipient of a «facial society,» in which «the faces of politicians, generals, managers, athletes, artists or products advanced to portraits of stars and brand names, to logos with public appeal.» [25]

Modern observer

In 1851, Sir David Brewster introduced a transportable viewing device at the London World's Fair that allowed merging together slightly displaced paired photographs to create one image, which appeared to be three-dimensional. [26] Brewster's stereoscope became a huge success, and «soon thereafter thousands of greedy pairs of eyes bent over the stereoscope's openings like over the skylight to infinity.» [27] The stereograms [28] mass produced in the period following the stereoscope's introduction for the most part showed historical monuments, landscapes and urban scenes—tourist views from countries near and far that could be quasi ‹virtually› traveled via the stereoscope. In addition, they allowed the middle class a visual appropriation of foreign countries and cultures, which was already taking place through colonization.

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Contemporary descriptions [29] verify that the ‹visual desire› that arises when viewing stereoscopic photographs lay in the feeling of immersion: [30] The outside world disappears in favor of the space of an image, which is experienced as a real space. In its linking of apparatus and the physiology of sight, stereoscopy is part of a «modernization of vision» [31] that according to the art historian Jonathan Crary is associated with a new concept of the observer. The exploration of the physiology of human vision driven forward in the nineteenth century came to the conclusion that the observer is in no way merely a passive recipient of images of the outside world, rather the images are created in the visual process. Optical toys such as the phenacistiscope, the zootrope, [32] and of course the stereoscope represent the new insight that was being gained into vision (such as the after-image effect or binocularity). Besides their being a form of entertainment, at the same time they trained perception, which was being subjected to new demands in the age of industrialization.

Consumer as producer—Producer as consumer

Photography, however, not only produces the modern consumers of images, but also empowers them to produce their own images. In the beginning, photography as a private pastime was reserved for a small class as it required money and above all time to learn the skills necessary for taking and developing photos. At the end of the 1880s, the creation of the hand camera and roll film created the conditions for shutter photography, which no longer required knowledge of the photographic process. The famous slogan ‹You press the button, we do the rest,› with which the Kodak company advertised its first cameras, is an accurate indication of the dependence of the lay photographer on the photographic industry: S/he had become a producer of photographs only in the sense of being a consumer of its products and services.

An essential part of the practices of private photography is the photograph's quality as an index (refer to the section on «The photograph as an index,» above): Biographical occurrences are recorded and

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The Pencil of Nature (Talbot, Henry Fox), 1844

authenticated at the same (‹It actually happened›). Shutter photography, as analyzed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in the 1960s, became primarily an agent of the cohesion of the family, for which it both produced verification and at the same time created. [33] For this reason, the new practices of shutter photography that arose in the course of digitalization are to be viewed in connection with the dissolution of traditional family structures and the forms of relationships and communication that take their place. [34]

The photograph in the media environment

The history of photographic intermediality—the connection of photo/book, text/image—began with the publication of Talbot's book «The Pencil of Nature.» [35] However, prior to the 1880s this connection was associated with a small number of copies, as photographs were either glued into books or produced using printing processes that required a high degree of craftsmanship. For the mass circulation of illustrated magazines and newspapers, photographs first had to be transferred onto wood engravings— with the arrival inthe 1880s of the screening process of autotypy, they could then be transferred mechanically to a printing plate and printed together with the copy. In the course of the illustrated magazine boom in the first half of the twentieth century, the photo report and the documentary photo essay emerged as specific forms of the combination of photo series with text contributions. The success of the mass press in the 1920s was also accompanied by criticism thereof: Siegfried Kracauer, for instance, implored the danger of substituting the experience of reality with the world of media. In his words: «The public sees the world in magazines, and magazines prevent perception of the world.» [36] This criticism would later be formulated in a whole range of variations. [37] In the media environment of the illustrated press, photographs are assigned meaning through captions and text contributions; text contributions are verified through photos: This intermedial configuration is decisive for the reception of photographic images. The switchover from offset printing to computer-based desktop publishing required the conversion of the photographic image into digital data—digitalization thus represents a

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logical further development for photography in the media environment. If one looks back at the history of how it was used in the mass media, which was only briefly touched on here, the most recent technological change in photography, i.e. its connection to electronic media, represents nothing more than an extension of precisely these media functions and their being made more effective. It was not until the advent of the Internet that the options aired by the early phototexts of a non-site-specific availability and an unrestricted circulation of images could actually be redeemed. In doing so, this continuation of objectives and applications, which from the beginning were associated with photography, oscillates between democratization and commercialization, between the ideal of a general accessibility of media technology and the problem of its dependence on the mechanisms of the economy and industrial production.


The technological transformation of photography isa natural consequence of its intermediality. In the same way the screening process constituted the condition for its integration into the medium of mass printing, its digitalization is the condition for its implementation into the universal medium of the computer. The substitution of the analog through the digital—or more precisely: analogo- numeric—process took plate in several stages and on different technological levels: that of the recording, the processing, and the transmission of data.

From a media-archeological perspective, the screening of photographic masters for the purpose of their automatic transfer onto printing plates can already be described as a form of digitalization: The continuous tonal values of a photochemical master are broken down into discreet units, i.e. black dots and white blanks. [38] This breaking down is at the same time the condition for coupling photography with electric telegraphy. [39] , on the media historical connection between photography and telegraphy. In order to be able to transmit photographic images per telegraph, the image to be sent is screened into fields, which are then assigned discreet signs according to

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their various brightness attributes. These signs then travel through the channel, and on the receiving end they are again assigned the corresponding dots, which allows recombination of the image. In their technical arrangement, screening and image-telegraphic scanning anticipate the modern scanning process: however they differ on an essential point: During the modern scanning process, values are stored and can be further processed. By scanning them, analog photos are carried over into the computer and thus made accessible to mathematical operations: The condition for image processing was created. Electronic image recording was not made possible for another 20 years: through the CCD (charged coupled device) chip, which was patented in 1974 and consists of a lattice-like arrangement of light-sensitive elements via which light can be converted into an electrical charge. This, on the other hand, can be measured and subsequently digitalized, i.e. converted into bit patterns. [40] Although photographs are in this way made directly (without going through a scanner) available to processing or transmission by the computer, their creation remains bound to the analog transfer of lightquantities: The actual digitalization occurs only through the measuring out of these light values and their code conversion into numerical values (bits). This distinguishes analogo-numerical photography (mentioned above) from images that have completely generated by a computer and whose ‹look› is only adapted to photographic (or cinematic) aesthetics. [41]

In view of the use of the photograph by the mass media, the advantages of its digitalization are perfectly apparent: It can be delivered immediately (e.g. as a press photo) and made available for prompt processing (e.g. for the layout of a magazine); in addition, it can be directly distributed throughout the world via the Internet.

Digital Montage

Apart from their use in military and scientific contexts, [42] the possibilities of digital image processing and analog-digital image recording (beginning with the so-called ‹video still camera› introduced in 1981) were first used in the areas of magazines and the press. Until way into the 1980s, digital image processing remained a high-tech option only large agencies could afford—the

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Faces # 1-12 (Tandberg, Vibeke), 1998Affaires infinie (Hoffmann, Bettina)Le jeu de la règle (Fleischer, Alain)

pyramids, for example, were moved closer together by means of Scitex rendering for the February 1982 cover of ‹National Geographic,› who plays an exemplary role in the debate over digitalization. The introduction of the personal computer and the opening of the Internet, however, also shaped the participatory and (inter)active potential of the configuration of photography, the video, and computer processing: Multi-media ‹desktop publishing› is now no longer only available to the mass media, but also political groups, citizens' groups, artists—i.e. anyone who has anything to communicate. It is in this spirit that in the exhibition catalogue «Digital Photography: Captured Images, Volatile Memory, New Montage,» Jim Pomeroy takes up a slogan of the leftwing media avant-garde of the 1930s: Every receiver can become a transmitter. [43] The exhibition, which in 1988 was presumably the first to take up the subject of ‹digital photography› within the context of art, also makes reference to the avant-garde of the 1920s and 1930s in another respect. The image/text works by the artists, which were presented primarily in the simple form of computer printouts, are compared in their method with themontage concepts of Dadaism, Surrealism and Constructivism: [44] In the same way the ‹analog› collages consist of fragmentary photos and texts of different origins, the computer works also disclose their construction principles—the contrastive superimposition of heterogeneous material. In doing so, the low-tech optics of coarse, mosaic-like pixel resolution, visible video lines, of saw-tooth distortions and transmission errors (cf. e.g. «The Noise Factor» (1988) by George Legrady) are set against the ‹smooth,› high-tech image manipulation by the large photo agencies. The ‹noise› of the data not only prevents illusionistic effects—it shows, so to speak, the medium ‹computer› at work.

With the introduction of the image processing software ‹Photoshop,› a further form of digital montage appeared. Like the large magazines, artists can now process photographs without their intervention being directly visible in the result. Works such as «Faces #1–12» (1998) by Vibeke Tandberg, «Affaires infinies» by Bettina Hoffmann (1997), or «Le jeu de la règle» (1992ff.) by Alain Fleischer are based on the—still assumed—reception of photographic images as

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representations of a real (or a staged) occurrence. The irritation begins at second glance or in the course of the series of images; it lifts the ‹naive› perception of the scene and thus opens up a further horizon of meaning. [45]

Digital Trouble

The welcoming of the creative potential and the multi-media ‹connectability› of a digitalized photograph is eclipsed by a critical discourse, which above all points out the potential for manipulation and forgery of all kinds in electronic image processing. For this reason, it is not coincidental that the debate over the loss of the credibility of photographic images ignites in the area of photojournalism. The authority of the classical photo report is particularly bound to photographic indexicality, in which the ‹That's how it was› of the object being shown is substantiated by the photographer's ‹I was there,› and vice versa. Digitalization severs the indexical connection between the photograph and the object of the photograph, and at the same time it expropriates the photographer in that the photo is now accessible to any form ofprocessing. Photographer associations fear that the simplification of the ‹creative› editing of photographic masters will gradually disable the difference between ‹authentic› and ‹manipulated› photos and thus in the end completely undermine the belief in the documentary value of photography. [46] The theoretical contributions that look into this aspect of digitalization necessarily return to the long history of forging images for the specific purpose of deception and to the ‹classical› processes of image/text layout that confer meaning. [47] Above and beyond that, authors such as Martha Rosler, who as an artist examined the conditions of a critical practice of documentary photography, emphasize the fundamental dependence of photography and its documentary function on social, political and discursive contexts. [48] These aspects allow relativizing the meaning of the technological transformation from analog to digital photography and shifting to the more fundamental question of the changes in the use of media by society.

However, the apprehension that the loss of photographic indexicality triggers off goes beyond the

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Aftermath (Ristelhuber, Sophie)

suspicion of deception: It is linked to the idea of the fading away of any reference to external reality and, as a result, the individual's power of judgement. [49] This is where the debate over the ‹death of photography› converges with that over the virtualization of human experience, which was conducted in the 1990s in connection with computer games and increasing use of the Internet, but also in conjunction with the media adaptation of the first Gulf War in 1990/1991. The Gulf War gained exemplary meaning in two respects: It stands for a new dimension in the ‹visiontechnological› distancing of the fighter pilot from his or her target and for a particularly restrictive image policy on the part of American warfare. «In this war,» writes Mitchell in «The Reconfigured Eye,» which was published a year after the first Gulf War ended, «satellite imaging systems did much of the spying and scouting. Laser-guided bombs had nose-cone video cameras; pilots and tank commanders became cyborgs inseparable from elaborate visual prostheses that enabled them to see ghostly-green, digitally enhanced images of darkened battlefields. There was no Mathew Brady to show us the bodies on the ground, no RobertCapa to confront us with the human reality of a bullet through the head. Instead, the folks back home were fed carefully selected, electronically captured, sometimes digitally processed images of distant and impersonal destruction. Slaughter became a video game: death imitated art.» [50] This quote is typical for the moral charge that the discussion over the photographic and post-photographic ‹truth› gains through this context: Electronic image technology stands for the view from above—the general's view, who only has his or her sights set on anonymous targets—while ‹classical› photography stands for the view from below—for the suffering and death of the individual as the ‹human› reality of war. In contrast, the photographic work «Martha Rosler,» which Sophie Ristelhuber began after the end of the first Gulf War, relies on a third perspective. The condition of her fragmentary tracking is the conviction that the ‹truth› of a war cannot in principle be mediated through images: neither through photographs of its victims, nor through cockpit displays.

In the exhibition «Photography after Photography» the focus is on a further context of ‹digital trouble.› A

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Ficticious Porträts (Cottingham, Keith), 1992o.T. (Export, Valie), 1989The Dystopia Series; Maria (Aziz, Anthony; Cucher, Sammy), 1994

number of the works it included tested the new tools (Photoshop, Paintbox and the like) on the human body, on the human face: Bodies were deformed and hybridized (Inez van Lamsweerde), constructed (Keith Cottingham's «Fictitious Portraits» from 1992); faces were ‹folded› (Valie Export's «o.T.» from 1989), robbed of their countenance (Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher's «Dystopia» from 1994), their individuality (Nancy Burson's series «Chimären» since 1982). [51] It is at the interface of the human body that the post-photographic discourse eclipses that on the ‹posthuman,› [52] in which digital processing stands so to speak metaphorically for the ubiquitous variability of the human body through cosmetic surgery and the genetic technology of the future. However, whereas talk of the ‹posthuman› drives forward the imagining of a new design, a new model of the human in more of an affirmative gesture, [53] the artistic works cited above visualize the apprehension triggered off by the feeling of uncertainty with respect to our traditional ideas about the similarity and identity of the subject55 (confirmed by the traditional photographic portrait in its reference to an individual physiognomy, a distinctbody), i.e. they make ‹dystopic› reference to what is possibly a changing ‹human› form.

Unstable Images

«The digital image technologies have literally eliminated a photographic model of representation, the spatial-temporal bond of a light-sensitive carrier material to a spatial-temporal constellation/figuration in front of the camera, and put it up for debate. The very foundation of the ontology of the photographic image as conceived by the likes of Kracauer and Benjamin, and later by Bazin and Barthes, has been shaken. In view of the binary coding of the photographic contingency, even the index theory, which follows Charles S. Pierce, now appears to be obsolete.» [54] As explained above, the indexicality of photography substantiated its credibility as evidence of something that had actually been there in front of the camera. Even the knowledge that a photo does not gain meaning until it has been contextualized has not led us to fundamentally doubt this credibitility. Today, the reception of photographs is beginning to change: We now start off by doubting its promise of reality. The

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digital/ized photograph is a ‹dubitative› image: [55] ). Its authenticity as a direct photo and the associated evidential value can now only be established through external authorization. [56] For this reason, a society whose communication rests primarily on digital (image) media requires a «well-founded, strictly arranged media policy»59— those who analyze the technological change from analog to digital photography are united in this conclusion.

From a technological point of view, the ‹That's how it was› of analog photography is based on the «irreversibility of the exposed material»; [57] the digital photo, in contrast, is characterized by its «immanent variability»: [58] The digital photograph is fundamentally reversible (it can immediately be deleted); its output as an image is only one of the possible manifestations of the data stored in binary form. [59]

A further factor in the ‹instability› of digital photographs is their dependence on hardware and software. Their visual appearance changes along with the file format, the screen configuration, through compression, conversion, etc. The greatest problem, however, is caused by the continuous furtherdevelopment of computer systems: The change from one system to the next but one can make image data unreadable and thus inaccessible. And so there is a rift between potential ‹digital endurance› and ‹mechanical impermanence,› [60] which can only be bridged through continuous activity: Data stocks have to be adapted to each of the new formats in time with the new developments by the computer industry; they have to be put onto each of the new storage media before they only become interesting to media archeologists. [61]

According to an expert on image databases, «[d]igitalization projects necessitate constant reacting and acting, because what is digital does not rest, just as overall technological development does not rest.» [62] The professional condition for operators of image databases also affects both artists who work with digital media as well as each and every lay photographer: While the best way to slow down the physico-chemical process of the decay of photographs is to protect them from being accessed (by allowing them to be exposed to as little light as possible and storing negatives in underground freezer depots),

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digital photos are only preserved through their use—if one ignores them, the information stored on them will also be lost for future generations. [63]

It is quite possible that the apprehension about the instability of digital photographs and the efforts to secure their longevity is nothing more than the reflex of a «traditional (Old European) self-conception of culture…. [t]ransatlantic media cultures have long since accentuated the technologies of multi-media and space-seizing transmission—the dataflows in the Internet.» [64] In the sense of an information society, ‹instability› can be regarded as a positive value: It stands for dynamic transmission, unobstructed circulation, and for communication that is not bound to real space; it stands for virtuality as the ability to experience what is possible. In contrast, analog photography hangs on to what is past; its gesture is a clinging—to a state of visible reality, to public and private occurrences, to fleeting moments in everyday life. Its great subjects, the topography of urban and suburban life and the visualization of biography and identity are (or were) being sustained by a concept of remembrance that binds historical tradition andpersonal memory to material evidence. Fifteen years after the beginning of the debate over the ‹end of photography› one can establish that the radical change from analog to digital technology has not invalidated the notions of representation, identity and memory associated with the photographic dispositive—rather it contributes to a destabilization of these notions. In the environment of electronic media, digital photography constitutes a threshold phenomenon: It is located so to speak at the transition from old storage media to new communication media and their paradigms.

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