Monday, February 26, 2007

The Age of 'Virtual Guilds'

I have been musing, in previous writings, on the transitory nature of information recorded in electronic formats of the 'new media'.

It may come as perhaps a surprise to some that I, in fact, actually may be found to embrace many aspects of the new media technologies. I say "surprised", in that those who may be reading this, who know that I engage in 'traditional' chemical-based photography, and also employ a strong ethic of 'do-it-yourself' (or 'DIY') camera building using improvised lenses and alternative photographic media, such as paper negatives. Yet I, in fact, can be found posting writings, often written using the aegis of a PDA and folding keyboard, onto a personal 'blog' website, often with some attached photographic image taken using a (usually) non-electronic method of image-making. I also can be frequently found to be using a flat-bed scanner to convert paper negatives into electronic formats, inverted and polished with the graphic arts program 'Photoshop', and then posted to the pinhole photography related website at F295.

It would seem obvious, therefore, that most every adherent of traditional media, who cares to be engaged in some form of dialog and exchange with others like-minded, does so while attached to that most modern of media, the Internet. Such people are therefore to be seen as adapters and avid proponents of both digital and analog media, rather than merely polarized and isolated, as many are want to think.

Certainly, not every person who posts photos online does so with images that originated from a digital camera. Many folks find that traditional film and camera technology to be a much more user-friendly, easily manipulatable technology that seems more fitting as a tool that fits the hand, bridging the gap between the eye and the heart. Such people recognize almost intuitively that certain tools are better suited for some tasks than others, and find no discomfort in switching back and forth between both. These same people would also perhaps agree that some tools, such as the flat-bed scanner, are just the right enabling technology that, combined with the personal computer and an internet connection, they can share with someone that they have never met, from any corner of the globe, an image that just previously that day had been exposed and processed.

These same people may also be found to be engaged in what are termed 'print exchanges', where traditional paper darkroom prints are handcrafted, then mailed off to some remote part of the world, to be received, weeks later, by an expectant enthusiast who may only then come to appreciate the subtle nuances of tone and texture and character that are only to be fully realized when a real, honest-to-gosh silver gelatin print is beheld in their hands.

Yet these folks would most likely have never learned of the creative arts, much less been able to communicate, were it not for the technological revolution in the field of social discourse brought about by the global network.

Thus we find that the place best suited for the application of the new tools of electronic commerce to be in the arena of mass-communication. We must, therefore, not pretend to confuse this activity with the merits of traditional craft making, nor assume that the new will overtake or displace the old. As adherents to the handcrafts find new avenues of interaction enabled by the Internet, these same traditions will be strengthened, rather than weakened. New, niche markets for specialty manufacturing that cater to the traditional crafts will coalesce, as groups of these adherents form what may be termed 'virtual guilds', for the preservation and the advancement of traditional handcrafts and arts.

The hand remains the bridge between the eye and the heart. Traditional arts and crafts are wrought by the work of the very same hand. As such, we can expect handicrafts to flourish, rather than languish, in this new, digital age.~

Monday, February 19, 2007

Penmanship Revisited

In a rather more personal note than my usual style of blog entry, this is an attempt to share some personal writings with you, the reader.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Currency of Visual Imagery

Today I was musing on the observation that image making is capable of being defined and regulated by the economies that regulate other forms of social discourse. It would seem natural, after reflection, that in a media-saturated, image-conscious culture the language of visual imagery would operate within a scale of valuation that governs other forms of economics. We place value upon imagery based on agreed upon conventions, and the dictates of the vagaries of the current taste in fashion.

This sense of value commonly placed upon image-making implies that imagery serves to operate within a cultural setting as the currency of social exchange; implicit is the notion that the more conscious a culture is of the importance of visual imagery the more highly inflated, and volatile, will be the resulting price placed on such imagery. This is in direct opposition to the notion that as image making becomes more and more democratized, its valuation will be diluted through the simple effects of the volume of scale.

These two seemingly oppositional forces coexist simultaneously and are in constant flux, serving to provide a continual field of change that become commonly interpreted as the irrational, unquantifiable effects of a fickle, middle-class, art-consuming public.

We exist at this moment in the state where the devaluating effects of image over-saturation, brought about by the efficiencies of a technologized mass image-making and reproduction industry, overwhelm any effects of cultural valuation possible through an educated, appreciative and critical audience. We may therefore begin to question the role played by, and even the very existence of, such an educated, art-conscious public. When artistic sensibility is intermixed, interwoven and hopelessly confused with mere popular culture there can be no further discussion or thought around the social contribution of creativity, other then a mass consensus that, if it's popular (i.e. it generates a positive cash flow) then it must therefore merit our interest and consumption.

This is the fatal flaw in the pursuit of art as popular culture: the currency of exchange, and measure of valuation, is monetary rather than intellectual. Therefore, no higher considerations of art are possible, aside from the measure of success in a monetary sense.

Lest we be accused of some high-art snobbery, it needs to be stated forthright that the world of the 'art gallery elite' is another strata of social valuation measured by exclusivity, whose access and measure of success is often a mirror image of mainstream popular culture, masquerading as a form of intellectual sophistication and pretension.

The problem with mechanized image-making in general, and photography in particular, is that the nature of reproducibility inherent in the technology makes it an ideal medium within which to deliver messages of social, political and consumerist ideology and propaganda. It is no mere coincidence that the century that saw the introduction of the language of universal photographic imagery was also witness to a continuous series of global mass-slaughters, and the threat of mass-extinction, unprecedented in human history.

The power of the photographic image in particular to simulate the sense of unmanipulated reality places it in the forefront of usefulness as a tool for mass manipulation by political and economic powers. The fact that photographic images have been used repeatedly throughout the 20th century as vehicles for state and corporate propaganda is a foregone conclusion that is impossible to contradict. This places the individual photographic artist, working in solitude independent of the institutions of mass media, in a precarious position. How does such a person, approaching their pursuit of creativity from honest internal motivations and an open dialog with themselves, work within a medium whose very fabric is defined by the dichotomy between a facade of veracity and an intrinsic quality that makes manipulation inevitable? Given the medium's intrinsic ability to deceive, how does one work in a manner that warrants an honest and open approach to the subject at hand?

On the one hand, it is possible to conclude that such an honest and open approach within the medium of photography is impossible, unless the artist himself be sorely deceived by the very medium that he has claimed to master for higher purposes. With this in mind, the only honest approach to the medium is one that acknowledges these intrinsic characteristics and purposefully takes advantage of the manipulative and deceptive tendencies implicit to the genre.

It is in this spirit that we must approach photographic-based art going forward from here: at its most transparent, it is merely an isolated moment in time as viewed from a cyclopean, one-eyed, Brunaschellian perspective, permitting the resulting visual document to be read on a factual basis when, in fact, there is little in the photographic image that is factual. Photography appropriates and co-opts optical wave front energy and presents it as a representative sample of the 'real world', through the faith that the viewer places in the resulting presentation as possessing an internal veracity all its own.

Visual artists must begin to use the photographic image for the purposes of deconstructing (to borrow an over-used term from the world of post-modernism) the camera-generated image in order to explore the mechanisms of visual deception intrinsic to the medium. It is through this process that the artist can begin to reveal to a heretofore naive public the power that has been placed in the hands of the image-makers of the power elite in this oligarchic society.~