Thoughts on digital photography from the Dead Media Archive:
"...In dealing with the digital we are dealing in things that are intangible. We can touch a computer, we can touch a DVD or a CD, but we cannot touch the contents they contain for they are located in encoded bits of information. All the more, the experience of the world comes through to some by way of the Internet and their communications through it. An empirical example of this can be seen in the constant need to photographically document all aspects of one’s life that is prevalent among many people today.
The great amounts of storage available on digital cameras have made it so that we can literally document everything that happens to us on a given day without having to reload the camera. Not having to develop anything, we can take these pictures immediately home and upload them: instant memories. But this new mode of image capture and image distribution has not come without serious epistemological consequences. Digital photography has fundamentally altered our relation to images of the world—how we come to have knowledge and form beliefs about the world.
Bernard Stiegler addresses this radical change in his essay “The Discrete Image.” Stiegler, drawing on Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, argues that with analog (i.e. photochemical) photography, the viewer had a certain faith in the fidelity of the image to some actual past event; this belief is completely elided in the realm of the digital, what Stiegler calls “the discrete image” and the “analogico-digital image.” As Stiegler explains: 'The digital photograph suspends a certain spontaneous belief which the analog photograph bore within itself. When I look at the digital photo, I can never be absolutely sure that what I see truly exists—nor, since it is still a question of a photo, that it does not exist at all. The analogico-digital image calls into question what Andre Bazin calls the objectivity of the lens [l’objectivité de l’objectif] in analog photography, what Barthes also calls this was [le ça a été], the noeme of the photo. The noeme of the photo is what in phenomenology would be called its intentionality. It is what I see always already, in advance, in every (analog) photo: that what is captured on the paper really was. This is the essential attribute of the analog photo. That it would then be possible to manipulate this photo, to alter what was, this is another attribute, but it can only be accidental; it is not necessarily co-implied by the photo. This may happen, but it is not the rule. The rule is that every analog photo presupposes that what was photographed was (real)..."
From: Dead Media Archive, NYU Dept Media, Culture and Communication