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Penelope Umbrico. An enlightening exaAtmple of diverse digital material to produce works.

Digital Art in Photography.

A Brief Contribution to Set out Some Points.

by Jean-Paul Margnac

In the earliest time of photography, e.g. around 1880, painting and photography were rivals and sometimes accomplices. At that time, for most critics, the obsessive question “ Is photography an Art ?” was not easy to decide.For instance, a painter like Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), produced scenes directly inspired from a photographic point of view. The invention of large angle lenses since 1860, had shown new perspectives which were largely used by Caillebotte in his compositions.

At the same time, a photographer as Le Gray (1820-1884) expresses his intend to make art with his photographs "I send forth the hope that photography ... enters the world of art. "

Alberto Seveso, closer to classic illustration work.

But, as we know, the next generations of painters have turned back the imitation of reality and deconstructed firmly all reference to photographic image. In the twentieth century, for many decades, except Man Ray, maybe, and some surrealist attempts, photographers don't claim to status of artist.During that era, the society recognize their irreplaceable role of witnesses to the events of world history. Thus, emerged the archetype of the photo-reporter, acting both during war, such as Capa, or in daily life as Cartier-Bresson.

Since ten years at least, the relationship between art and photography have deeply changed. Artists have perceived the potential of digital technics. Thus, many of them explore the capabilities of digital still images and, eventually, animated. By a simple and practical fact, cameras deliver directly  digital files who are processed by the same way. The fact that an image is now defined by a binary coding has upset in depth the relationship between artists and photography

Liu Bolin. A "pure" performer.

First, as Andy Warhol prophesied in the seventies, the value of the work is no more its uniqueness but his replication ad libitum (or ad nauseam, it depends!). Internet is the appropriate vector to spread digital works.

Second, unlike the era of roll film, an artist photographer can master all the process, since the capture until the final rendering.

In front of the exponential paths to use digital technic in photography, a short taxonomy seems useful.

Cerise Doucède. A "pure" visual artist, who just takes pictoure or her work.

Artists using any digital materials to produce works.

An enlightening example of that kind of approach is given by Penelope Umbrico who gathers thousands clichés picked from Flickr to compose a kind of colored and randomness mosaic.Umbrico’s work deals with a sociological look on the daily life and leisures of the Flickr's Galaxy members.On his work titled Sideways TV, the spectator feel like a vertigo imagine how many idle and lonely people have press on the shutter to picture their TV set !

Let's recall that Flick store around ten billions of pics ! An infinite field of excercise for these artists …

Closer to classic illustration work, Italian artist Alberto Seveso, uses image editing software to build dreamlike portraits. In that example, he uses roses petals to form a carnival mask on a face. Of course, if we identify all the artists using digital tools to edit digital still images, our taxonomy becomes irrelevant! Thus, let’s introduce another category, called : “ Visual artist photographer”.

Kalliope Amorphous

Visual artist photographers

- The “pure” Performers . Chinese artist Liu Bolin illustrate perfectly that category. Liu Bolin, previously sculptor, performs, with the help of many assistants, self-portraits who have the specificity he becomes invisible on the final photo. (Liu Bolin stands in front the scarper !) …

- The “pure” Visual artists who just take picture of their work. Cerise Doucède, winner of the 2013 HSBC Photo Contest, arranges complex and colored installations she captures with her camera.What these two artist have to deal with digital art ? One can notice that their works could be done with classical analogic features. That's right, but in fact all the published images have been captured and processed in a digital way.

Jean-Paul Margnac: The solar runner

- The “pure” Photographers who use their own pics to perform a work ? Here, the material is a photograph, captured by the eye of a photographer who has the intent to re-interpret the scene he shot.For instance, the Kalliope Amorphous’ work, a New-Yorker photographer artist or the French Jean-Paul Margnac.

To conclude, the wording "Digital Photography" covers an extensive field of practices. In that case, how to decide when an artist can really be labeled as "digital artist"? Le time, amateurs and critics to decide.

Jean-Paul . SGdB. March 2014






Paris ACM Siggraph, the French chapter of ACM Siggraph, worldwide non-profit organization of computer graphics.









Galerie Charlot An important supporter of digital art.