Stephen Mayes , Fred Ritchin and Jonathan Worth in conversation on new media, photography and journalism
Author and Professor Fred Ritchin talks to Jonathan Worth about his latest book: “Bending the Frame” for the open undergraduate class Photography and Narrative
“My concern is that if the media takes to doing what Russell Brown is demonstrating now, that people, the public will begin to disbelieve photographs generally and it won’t be as effective and as powerful a document of social communication as it has been for the last 150 years.”
(CR blog/Photoshop is 20)
Fred Ritchin wrote After Photography in response to the rapid changes and adaptation of technologies, which allowed digital image manipulation. By the time the book was published, in 2009, image manipulation had become part of a professional’s workflow, bypassing the initial skepticism that followed such methods. Today we refer to the act of manipulation as “photoshopping”, which borrows its name from the popular photo editing software Photoshop. At this point we should be asking whether this example conforms with Marshall McLuhan’s concept; “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
It wasn’t long till photography was used as a document. The successor of painting was mechanical and recorded the world with greater credibility than a man’s paintbrush.
The use of such technologies void the photograph of it’s ability to tell the truth. The digital era in photography said to have begun with this manipulated 1982 cover. “It was then that the National Geographic’s staff modified a horizontal photograph of the pyramids of Giza and made it vertical, suitable for the magazine’s February cover.” (p.27) Two years later, in 1984, Fred interviewed the magazine’s editor [?].
“…all we are doing is going back in time and moving the photographer a couple meters to one side to get a different point of view”
Being born considerably later, May 1991, reading the first chapter from After Photography was almost like reading history. My generation was brought up inside the digital world. I always like to think that I am not a digital native, because I had serious “transactions” with computers at the age of 13. I still hold memories without the presence of a screen. Today I come to realise that digital world is not just your personal computer. We grew up in a system, where our food was manufactured, delivered and acquired with the assistance of computers. Water supply and electricity networks were monitored by computers. The live images of missiles dropped in Kosovo, in 1999 were delivered in our living room via communication satellites, running on digital technology. Even our cars had circuit boards controlling the safety of passengers.
The photographer of the 21st century ceases to be a supplier and becomes, what Fred Ritchin calls, a meta-photographer. The later is not just responding to an event but participates, even alters the course of events by being present. With the advance of digital imaging, photo manipulation became common practice and photography lost it’s ability to tell the truth. Technology though has allowed an individual to make use of multi-media for disseminating information. The use of audio, video, image, GPS and the ability to tell a story in real-time using online platforms, shape one as a credible witness. The same technology allowed one to record an event, while become the editor and publisher of its own material.
Fred Ritchin argues the “diminishing sense that the Media is telling us things of importance” while fewer people are willing to pay for that information. The old model has collapsed.