The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the post-photographic era;

William J. Mitchell

A surprisingly witty and well written meditation on the role of visual evidence in an era where the nature of digital imaging has transformed the meaning of photography.

The author argues that photography occupies a special role among other forms of portraiture and means of capturing visual compositions. Its complete independence of human creative input casts it as a purely objective medium, a form of visually documenting a given point in time as opposed to creating a subjective interpretation. What sets photography apart is neither the simplicity of use, nor is it the accuracy of depiction – it is the independent and impersonal means through which photography is capable of capturing the image.

The book ascribes this quality to analogue photographic technique which captures light onto a surface in immense detail using minuscule variation in tone – its capacity for hiding and revealing new information being practically infinite. This is a quality that the author believes to be the reason why hybrid and edited photography has been scoffed at by photographers, as editing a picture is seen as a crude, imprecise act – difficult to do with often unconvincing results.

This precision, reliability and difficulty of falsification has provided photography with the privilege of being seen as an impartial, reliable documentation of the truth – a status which it still enjoys today, thought its relevance as a reliable form of reporting has been increasingly questioned. Mitchell argues that the introduction of digital imaging has transformed the nature of photography. Visual information is stored digitally in a granular and precisely calculated way. All digital photography can be broken down into single-colour pixels, and unlike the infinitely fine variations in light intensity recorded by analogue methods, pixels are easy to manipulate. This shift in technology has also forced a shift of the medium of photography itself and the way it is viewed into an area where visual information cannot be seen as absolute. With its capacity to produce unquestionably accurate recordings of visual truth impaired, photography is starting to occupy a new spot as a truly post-modern medium, its very nature challenging the assumptions it was built on.