László Moholy-Nagy famously said: “The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do.’ The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”
The history of manipulation in photography dates back to when photography was first invented in the 1840s. In the 1990’s computer technology replaced manual techniques as the leading method of altering photos. The Australian artists in this selection, Vanessa Bertagnole, Mike Gray, and Kate Robertson, bend the conceptual and technical boundaries of photography, pushing the notion of light to extremes, and make visible the very nature of permutations occurring once photons enter the digital realm.
In her Digital Disruptions series, Vanessa Bertagnole documented the misbehaviour and failures of technology to accurately transmit information. Of this work she said “I moved video imagery that I took of various Australian landscapes through different media - phone, cameras, computers, tv's projectors. The videos began malfunctioning when I streamed them through my computer creating glitched imagery that I was drawn to and I started documenting the results.”
In Mike Gray’s series Corrupt, the space between the natural world and the digital world is examined by bringing the two extremes of the nature-culture axis together on the same visual plane. To express the representational disparity within this space, nature and culture are represented by digital images that have been re-worked to reveal the binary code that constitutes the image. His process involves corrupting the images by inserting both popular cultural references to nature and personal reflections into the image when opened in a text-based code editor. When the digital files are subsequently re-opened as images the corruption manifests itself in unpredictable ways.
Kate Robertson distorts her photographs in different ways, using the old photographic process of lumen printing. In her studio, she scanned plants on a flatbed scanner to capture the medicinal plants in an abstracted and fragmented approach. Because lumen prints are unfixed, every scan further exposed the prints to light. Kate says “In URAIWO PANGO (hini ukuki mongtah kuraho tawareikoring / used during crisis to heal deep wounds), 2016 the print was placed on the scanner and torn away while it was exposing and capturing data. It was then replaced back on the scanner for the remainder of the scanning process. The image is broken in two as a way to represent the physical trauma.
These final images differ significantly from what stood before the camera initially. Drawing on the understanding of the crucial role that technology plays in shaping modern vision, the artists in this curation lay bare the foundations of contemporary visual culture by questioning the nature of the digital image.