Even the photo booth-the most widely used instrument for self-portraiture in the history of our species-has
gone digital. In Gothenberg, Sweden, in 1994, I got from a new model of this commonplace machine a black-and-white digital printout of four versions of my face, instead of the once-standard strip of four or the more recent color equivalents. The quality of the rendering was inferior, even by photo-booth standards, but that was five years ago; I’m sure it’s improved. And there’s no reason that system couldn’t give you the images on a diskette, instead of or in addition to the printout.
These changes should proceed fairly smoothly. There is, however, one area where digitization will create an upheaval: the evidentiary function of the photograph. Digital photography does something extremely problematic in regard to that range of activities: It eliminates the unique physical record-the negative. I am
not sure that this sizeable problem can be resolved within or by this technology in any meaningful way. That raises-among other intriguing questions-this one: Can a digital photograph have any legal standing as evidence?
Within the structure of the current technologies, I’d have to say no. So I’ll venture to guess that by 2020 analog systems and materials for serious professional use will be far more expensive than their digital equivalents, and will be employed primarily by willful dinosaurs who simply refuse to change (and can afford not to), by artists and photographers who prefer to work in those forms for creative reasons, and by specialists in certain fields-documentary photographers and forensic photographers, say-who wish to generate physical negatives as unimpeachable records.
As for fine-art photography: Digital imagery has already begun to infiltrate this territory. At “The Photography Show,” the expo presented in February in New York City by the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD), one could find at The Platinum Gallery works by Dan Burkholder, for example, who
makes black-and-white analog negatives, scans them, does digital photomontage on the computer, outputs new large-format negatives, and prints them in platinum. Others in this field use digitalization in various ways in their image-making-sometimes just to clean up problem negatives, sometimes to render them as Iris
ink-jet prints.No one in the field seems to find this at all perturbing; I’d guess that this constituency-the vendors and collectors of fine-art photography-will adapt to the digital evolution with relative ease, so long as the work remains within traditional precious-object formats.
But there will be challenges to all concerned, even in areas where the digital transition now seems to be smooth. The sharpest challenge will come with the work that’s en route, the first wave of inquiry into purely digital photography: unincorporated images, pictures meant strictly for viewing on the computer monitor or in
other immaterial forms we can currently only imagine. The logical vehicle for display of digital images-the one we might argue is inherent to the medium, differentiating it from its predecessors-is the video display terminal (VDT) and subsequent extrapolations thereof.