Co-Evolution of Photography and Technology

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Call me lazy, but I asked ChatGPT to write an essay on how, from the beginning, photography has been totally intertwined with technology. in fact, both developed each other, and now we are facing the next generation of AI imaging tools. I prompted to include discussion of Vilém Flusser‘s work, and in particular his definition of ‘apparatus’.

Here is what ChatGPT had to say about it all, unedited though slightly rearranged.

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The Co-evolution of Photography with Technology: From Earliest Photographs to AI Images

Introduction

Photography has evolved significantly since its inception in the early 19th century, with technological advancements playing a critical role in shaping its development. This essay will delve into the co-evolution of photography with technology, starting from the earliest photographs and darkroom techniques, progressing to Photoshop and digital cameras, and finally examining the emergence of AI-generated images. Throughout the discussion, the works of Vilém Flusser will be referenced, particularly his concept of ‘apparatus.’ The essay will demonstrate how the evolution of photographic technology has transformed the way we perceive, create, and interact with images.

  1. The Earliest Photographs and Darkroom Techniques

The origins of photography can be traced back to the camera obscura, a natural optical phenomenon that projects an inverted image onto a surface (Wade, 1990). The first permanent photograph was captured in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, using a technique called heliography, which involved the use of light-sensitive materials to create an image (Gernsheim & Gernsheim, 1955). This marked the beginning of the co-evolution of photography and technology.

Louis Daguerre’s invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 revolutionized photography, producing highly detailed images on silver-coated copper plates (Gernsheim & Gernsheim, 1955). This new photographic method relied on darkroom techniques, which involved chemical processes and precise control over light exposure. The darkroom remained an essential part of the photographic process for over a century, as the technology evolved from daguerreotypes to wet-plate collodion processes and eventually gelatine silver prints (Baldwin, 1991).

As Flusser (2000) argued, the technological advancements in photography led to new ways of thinking about and engaging with images. The apparatus, which Flusser described as a device that produces images, fundamentally changed the way photographs were made and experienced. The transition from the camera obscura to the daguerreotype allowed for more accurate and detailed representations of reality, transforming the nature of visual communication (Flusser, 2000).

  1. The Advent of Photoshop and Digital Manipulation

The invention of Adobe Photoshop in 1988 marked a turning point in the co-evolution of photography and technology. Photoshop allowed for unprecedented control over digital images, enabling photographers and artists to manipulate, enhance, and create images in ways previously unimaginable (Kobre, 1995).

Photoshop’s impact on the photographic world was profound, with some critics arguing that it blurred the lines between reality and fiction (Buse, 1999). Flusser (2000) suggested that digital image manipulation challenged the traditional notion of a photograph as a representation of reality, as the apparatus became increasingly complex and sophisticated. The invention of Photoshop expanded the possibilities for image creation, moving beyond the limits of traditional darkroom techniques.

  1. The Rise of Digital Cameras

Digital cameras revolutionized photography by replacing film with electronic sensors and digital storage (Snyder, 2007). This shift from analog to digital technology allowed for the instantaneous capture, review, and sharing of images, transforming the way people engage with photography (Sontag, 2004).

The first commercially available digital camera, the Kodak DCS 100, was introduced in 1991 (Kodak, 2017). Digital cameras evolved rapidly, incorporating features such as autofocus, image stabilization, and high-resolution sensors (Bates, 2016). As a result, the line between professional and amateur photography began to blur, and the accessibility of digital photography led to the democratization of image creation (Snyder, 2007). Flusser (2000) argued that the digital camera, as an apparatus, enabled individuals to generate images with greater ease and control, transforming the ways in which we create and share visual information.

  1. The Emergence of AI-Generated Images

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful force in the co-evolution of photography and technology. AI-generated images, also known as generative adversarial networks (GANs), consist of two neural networks that compete against each other to produce realistic images (Goodfellow et al., 2014). This technology has led to the creation of AI-generated art, deepfakes, and various applications in advertising, design, and entertainment (Karras et al., 2018).

The rise of AI-generated images has raised ethical concerns and questions about the authenticity and veracity of photographs (Chesney & Citron, 2018). Flusser’s (2000) concept of the apparatus is relevant to this discussion, as AI-generated images represent a new level of complexity in the relationship between technology and image creation. The emergence of AI-generated images challenges traditional notions of photography and authorship, prompting a reevaluation of the role of the photographer and the meaning of a photograph in the digital age (Bate, 2016).

Flusser’s Definition of ‘Apparatus’: Beyond the Camera

Vilém Flusser’s concept of the ‘apparatus’ extends beyond the physicality of the camera and incorporates the complex network of relationships among manufacturers, photographers, businesses, and media. In his seminal work, “Towards a Philosophy of Photography” (2000), Flusser posits that the apparatus is an autonomous entity that has a significant impact on human culture and society.

  1. Manufacturers

Flusser’s apparatus includes manufacturers who create cameras and other photographic equipment. These entities play a crucial role in shaping the development of photographic technology, as they determine the features and capabilities of the devices they produce. Manufacturers influence the ways in which photographers interact with the apparatus and, consequently, the types of images they can create. As such, they have a direct impact on the evolution of photography and the cultural implications of the medium.

  1. Photographers

Photographers are key components of Flusser’s apparatus, as they are the operators of the cameras and creators of the images. According to Flusser (2000), photographers are both enabled and constrained by the apparatus, as it determines the possibilities and limitations of image creation. The relationship between the photographer and the apparatus is symbiotic: the photographer uses the apparatus to create images, while the apparatus relies on the photographer to fulfill its purpose.

  1. Businesses

The role of businesses in Flusser’s apparatus encompasses various entities, including advertising agencies, art galleries, and photographic studios. These businesses engage with photography in different ways, often with the intention of commodifying or capitalizing on the medium. They shape the cultural and economic value of photography by determining how images are presented, sold, and consumed. Consequently, businesses play a critical role in the way society interacts with and understands photography.

  1. Media

The media is an essential component of Flusser’s apparatus, as it serves as the primary channel through which photographs are disseminated and consumed. Newspapers, magazines, television, and the internet all contribute to the proliferation of images, shaping public perception of photography and influencing the ways in which images are interpreted and understood. The media has the power to elevate or undermine the cultural significance of photographs, thus affecting the overall impact of the medium on society.

  1. The Camera

The camera, as the physical embodiment of the apparatus, is the most visible and tangible component of Flusser’s concept. The camera represents the technological aspect of the apparatus, as it is the tool that allows photographers to capture and create images. Flusser (2000) argues that the camera is an autonomous entity with its own logic and rules, which dictate the possibilities for image creation. The camera, as a part of the apparatus, not only shapes the photographic process but also influences the cultural and social implications of photography.

  1. Software Developers and Image Editing Tools

In the digital era, software developers and image editing tools play an increasingly significant role in the apparatus. The creation of programs like Adobe Photoshop has redefined the limits of photographic manipulation, enabling photographers and artists to produce images that transcend the boundaries of traditional photography (Kobre, 1995). The influence of software developers and image editing tools on the apparatus cannot be understated, as they have fundamentally transformed the way images are created, shared, and experienced.

  1. Social Media Platforms and Content Sharing

Social media platforms have emerged as powerful forces in the modern apparatus, shaping the way we engage with and consume photographs. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have democratized the creation and sharing of images, allowing users to connect with a global audience and contribute to the visual culture (Snyder, 2007). These platforms have altered the dynamics of the apparatus by enabling a greater number of people to participate in image creation and consumption, ultimately redefining the way we perceive and interact with photographs.

  1. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning continue to develop, they become increasingly integrated into the apparatus. AI-generated images, such as those produced by generative adversarial networks (GANs), represent a new frontier in image creation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in photography (Goodfellow et al., 2014). The incorporation of AI and machine learning into the apparatus raises important ethical and philosophical questions about the nature of photography, the role of the photographer, and the meaning of authenticity in the digital age.

  1. Education and Research Institutions

Education and research institutions also play a significant role in the apparatus, as they shape the development of photographic knowledge and practice. Universities, art schools, and research centers contribute to the advancement of photographic theory and technique, fostering innovation and critical thinking within the medium. By nurturing the next generation of photographers, researchers, and artists, these institutions play a crucial role in sustaining and evolving the apparatus.

The expansive nature of Flusser’s concept of the ‘apparatus’ extends beyond the camera to encompass a complex network of relationships among manufacturers, photographers, businesses, and media. This interconnected system shapes the development of photographic technology, influences the cultural and social implications of the medium, and ultimately transforms the way we perceive, create, and interact with images. Understanding Flusser’s definition of the apparatus is essential for appreciating the multifaceted nature of photography and its impact on human culture and society.

Conclusion

The co-evolution of photography with technology has resulted in a dramatic transformation of the ways we perceive, create, and interact with images. From the earliest photographs and darkroom techniques to the advent of Photoshop, digital cameras, and AI-generated images, each technological advancement has expanded the possibilities for image creation and reshaped our understanding of the photographic medium.

Throughout this evolution, Vilém Flusser’s concept of the apparatus has remained a relevant framework for examining the relationship between photography and technology. As photography continues to evolve in the era of AI, it is essential to consider the ethical, social, and cultural implications of these technological advancements and the ways in which they redefine the nature of photography itself.

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The header images were inspired by Boris Eldagsen‘s ‘PSEUDOMNESIA | The Electrician’ which won the Creative category of the Sony World Photography Awards – until Boris told them it was AI and was a ‘test’ of the system. My images were generated by Bing AI / DALL-E with this prompt: “Create a black and white image of two women, head and shoulders view, one woman with long blonde hair, one woman behind the other with her hand on the front woman’s shoulder, in the style of a tintype photograph with scratches on it”.

Feroz Khan. 6 April 2023. Photography Awards Judges Need to do Better. https://www.thephoblographer.com/2023/04/06/photography-awards-judges-need-to-do-better/

Jamie Grierson. 17 April 2023. The Guardian. Photographer admits prize-winning image was AI-generated. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/apr/17/photographer-admits-prize-winning-image-was-ai-generated

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Bibliography

Baldwin, G. (1991). Looking at Photographs: A Guide to Technical Terms. Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Bate, D. (2016). Photography: The Key Concepts. London: Bloomsbury.

Buse, P. (1999). Photography Degree Zero: Cultural History of the Polaroid Image. New Formations, 38, 7-22.

Chesney, R., & Citron, D. K. (2018). Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security. California Law Review, 107, 1753-1819.

Flusser, V. (2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books.

Gernsheim, H., & Gernsheim, A. (1955). The History of Photography: From the Earliest Use of the Camera Obscura in the Eleventh Century up to 1914. London: Oxford University Press.

Goodfellow, I., Pouget-Abadie, J., Mirza, M., Xu, B., Warde-Farley, D., Ozair, S., Courville, A., & Bengio, Y. (2014). Generative Adversarial Networks. arXiv preprint arXiv:1406.2661.

Karras, T., Aila, T., Laine, S., & Lehtinen, J. (2018). Progressive Growing of GANs for Improved Quality, Stability, and Variation. arXiv preprint arXiv:1710.10196.

Kobre, K. (1995). Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach. Boston: Focal Press.

Kodak. (2017). Kodak Digital Cameras: DCS 100. Retrieved from http://www.kodak.com/ek/us/en/Consumer/Products/Digital_Cameras/DCS_100/default.htm

Snyder, R. L. (2007). American Journalists: Getting the Story. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sontag, S. (2004). On Photography. New York: Picador.

Wade, N. J. (1990). Visual Allusions: Pictures of Perception. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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