Every day people take a countless number of photos. I will venture to say that 99% of them are digital photos, 99% of which will never become real objects.
So what are these phantoms of photography? What are these ephemeral beings without a body, and with the ability to appear simultaneously in several places, to disappear in a moment and appear again somewhere else and then disappear again? These are endless streams of numbers flowing in cyberspace.
Modern digital cameras are sophisticated devices used to generate digital codes. Thinking about digital photography in the category of trace, mark or imprint is a mistake. Light does not leave a permanent mark on the camera matrix. Light does not deform it. For just a fraction of a second, it activates its sensors, which instantly transform information about the amount of light into code. However, this code is not an image.
Image processors, whether built into a camera or external, operating in a computer or cloud, convert digital codes into images that are visible to the human eye. They do this with the use of algorithms, of which there is an infinite number and new ones are constantly being created. Any user of a digital camera or image processor can easily make any changes to the image code while creating a new algorithm. This means that from one code you can obtain an infinite number of digital images the appearance of which may differ significantly. The only limitation is the user’s imagination. Photorealistic algorithms based on the history of photography are most often chosen, thanks to which a digital image resembles analogue photographs that each of us has seen in our lives. This factor of memory makes one digital photograph look natural to us, others are called graphics or images. However, such a distinction is not justified in the case of digital photography.
A digital photographic image is in fact an interpretation of a digital code obtained by means of an electronic recording device. Interpretation at its base has subjectivity and can not claim any right to objectivity. Each interpretation, even the most fantastic, will be equal to another one. In the case of a digital photo, one can not say that one picture is better than the other, because the only criterion will be the taste of the recipient, and this one is also subjective. For the above-mentioned reasons, one can rightly conclude that the work of a digital photographer has more to do with the work of a painter than an alchemist who, through photochemical reactions, reveals what light has painted on a photosensitive material. A digital photographer paints a picture from an invisible sequence of numbers to reveal his or her interpretation. This interpretation is immediately transformed back into a new sequence of numbers to be included in cyberspace – a continuous and never-ending river of numbers. These images are caught from the river of cyberspace by the network users, resurrected for a short while, to return to their matrix in a moment.
Digital photographic images are separated from the material reality in two ways. First of all, not being an imprint of light on photosensitive material, they have a very loose connection with what has been photographed, and at the same time they are very strongly connected with how the photographer saw the photographed thing. Second, being ghosts, digital images have no body. It can be said that by denying their reference, they deny relationships with material reality. At the same time, submitting themselves to manipulation, digital images deny truth and objectivity. They literally become detached from reality.
What if you could get a digital code from a device other than a digital camera?
An illustration of this essay is a digital image of my authorship, which is entitled “The image we believe in”. This image is a digital photograph made in the cameraless technology. I made this photograph using a graphics card that served as a tool for registering the necessary code. I registered this code while walking around a virtual planet, 3D vector model of which I made in a graphic program. I covered the vector grid with photorealistic textures simulating water and land. I added objects such as the sun or clouds. I added effects simulating the effects of sunlight and wind. The graphic program also allowed me to generate a virtual lens with the desired focal length, with the help of which I could observe the changing landscape during my virtual walk. The interface between me and the virtual world was the digital image displayed on the monitor screen. When I spotted a picturesque place, I photographed it with my virtual lens. I interpreted the code obtained in this way in the image processor, like all other pictures, in accordance with my taste.
This all leads us towards the 21st century as a time when photography has freed itself from the necessity of painting from nature. A time when the decisive moment has ceased to matter. The 21st century as a time when ‘to be’ does not mean ‘to exist’. And a digital image is a picture that has never been there, which does not and will never exist, and at the same time, is always present.