Friday, February 6, 2009

Lewis Baltz: Subjects and Objects of the New Technological Culture

I stumbled upon a wonderful interview with Lewis Baltz over at American Suburb X. Entitled Lewis Baltz: Subjects and Objects of the New Technological Culture, the interview largely centers around the shift from analogue to digital production and whether this move has altered photography's relationship with "truthful" imagery. I realize that this is rather worn theoretical territory, however, Baltz is always insightful, thought-provoking and ultimately worth reading. Below is an excerpt from the interview. You can read it in its entirety here.

Interviewer: An analogue photo seems to maintain a strong link with the real thing that it represents, as we have the negative. So we have a material sign of the passage from a reality to its representation in the picture. With digital photos we don't have any material sign but only a line of numbers, zero and one. So do you think this mean we are getting too far from the real things we see and that we want to take in a picture?

Baltz: No. I think it's interesting that the questioning of the photograph in its relation to the reality, the interrogation of representation, the famous crisis of representation, really all took place before digital technology. Digital technology, you see, is not the villain here. It simply offers another dimension. I'm not sure if it's a farther remove from reality than analogue. I think if we can speak of reality, if reality and representation can be spoken of in the same sentence, if reality even exists any more, digital is simply another way of encoding that reality. I don't think it's farther from or, for that matter, closer to this concept of reality than anything that came before. I don't think the question of "materiality" is really what's at issue here. Photography is less material than painting; digital is less material. But the dematerialisation of art again is something that began thirty years ago as a conceptual gesture and long before people realised that it was not only a possibility but would in fact become the dominant technology.

Interviewer: But in some ways digital technologies change the relationship between the real and the virtual, because we have a real virtual world now. We have virtual reality in which we can have another world different from the real one...

Baltz: I think the balance is tipping in favour of the virtual and away from the real. But as I said before, I think that that balance had already started to tip before digital technologies. Their presence now accelerates that. Not only the presence of the technologies but the availability of the technologies. Everyone now can work with some sort of digital procedure. People are on the Internet, people work with digital cameras. Almost everything now has that possibility, maybe even the necessity, of some kind of digital interface or intervention. So in that sense, the sense that it proliferates, that it's everywhere in society, I think that will yet further detach people from whatever 19th century idea they had about reality, the phenomenal world and their relation to it and in it. Whether that change is an improvement or we are entering a dangerous brave new world, it's really impossible to say. In any case, it is the reality, it's the world we are entering, it's the world we're already half into.

Unoccupied Office

Image © Lewis Baltz