“It’s only digital photo manipulations and the images seem so random!” These words roll off the critic’s tongue and hang in the air during the course of the one on one discussion, cutting deep into the artist’s psyche, initially creating a gulf between the mindsets of the two. The essence of the remark is to question the very nature of popular culture art – not unlike the ‘plinther’ in Antony Gormley’s One & Other sculptural performance at the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The ‘plinther’ way up high in the heavily frequented public space, stands before a web cam with a chalk board sign, raising the question to the world ‘But is it Art?’ A question that has attained greater and greater relevance, as the years have passed since Duchamp posed the similar question by challenging the nature of what is an object of art. Reeling from the initial consternation of the statements implication, a hasty yet poorly conceived response is returned in an attempt to reconcile the artist’s perception of the work, to that projected within the critics statement that misses the point of political arts.
The artist tormented by the statement, later recalls that photographic image manipulation reaches back to the very infancy of photography, when separate emulsion plates were compiled to create panoramic landscapes. Over the past 150 years with the exponential availability and use of the photographic image, particularly now in its digital form, this visual imagery has become an integral part of daily life. Almost everyone of all ages in developed countries carry a camera of some sort about their person – resulting in a deluge of imagery from the most banal, to the capturing of history’s most important events.
Unsurprisingly given the technological revolution with this medium, emerging photographic based practices became an early focus out of postmodernism to form a defining aesthetic. The use of digital media has moved from the role of recording and documenting popular culture arts of the time, to one now that creates its own culture(s), in ever quickening flashes that morph in and out of time often in unison with the latest fad television series or movie franchise.
The recording of history and how it’s interpreted has forever changed. The exposure to mass media and consumer advertising has opened up a brave new world of imagery saturation, with a tech savvy generation only too aware yet receptive to the processes of imagery marketing; including the knowledge and cautious acknowledgment of the digital photo manipulation that readily occurs to such images, ranging from the air brushing of features to outright attempts at fraud.