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For Professor Paul Berger,
chair of the Photography
Program, technology is nothing new. After all, he says, photography
has always been technological.
Berger. Photo by Mary Levin.
It was born at the height
of the industrial revolution, when there was a huge onslaught of
ways to record and manipulate events from the actual world,”
he explains. “It has always ridden a strange and uncomfortable
boundary line between art and science.” But Berger readily
admits that digital technology has had a huge impact on photography.
To fully appreciate
the possibilities of digital photography, it helps to understand
traditional analog photography. Photographic film—coated with
an emulsion of chemicals that react to light—is a crucial
ingredient in analog photography. The level of detail within an
analog photograph can be infinite, says Berger, because the film
constitutes a physical object. Digital photography, in contrast,
arbitrarily divides an image into artificial units—pixels—and
jumps from one to the next.
advantage of this,” says Berger, “is that once you divide
the image into those units, it is easy to apply mathematical operations.”
In other words, you can manipulate it in some pretty mind-boggling
Berger first introduced
digital technology into the School of Art in 1985, as individual
computers began making their way to campus. As part of a major Olympus
grant from IBM to the UW, he acquired a Targa board that allowed
images from a videocamera to be translated into pixels that could
be manipulated. “At that time, it was the only way we could
get a digital image,” Berger recalls. “There was no
software for working with these images. We actually wrote some.
We were the only people in the Art Building with computers.”
Now Berger is content
to use popular software programs, which his students use as well.
“We introduce both digital and analog tools right off the
bat,” he says. “It’s important that students know
how to make both traditional analog prints and digital prints. Some
students use digital simply to create a great ‘straight’
print; others use it to change the way we describe the world.”
What can digital do
that analog cannot? “You can do color manipulations that are
extremely sophisticated,” Berger says. “You can make
corrections, like sharpening an image. You can make room-size displays,
which were previously limited by the size of chemical processors.
Even at this mundane level, digital technology has transformed photography.”
But photos can also
be altered or combined to create images that no longer simply record
reality but challenge it. That’s also been true with analog
photography, Berger points out, but “now you can do some extremely
invasive things that alter ‘photographic’ description
Berger says his own work,
which involves assembling photographic images into “big weavings
of imagery,” would be virtually impossible to create without
digital technology. “Even if you start using digital technology
just to make better prints,” he says, “it soon leads
off into new directions.”
New Methods for Metals
[Autumn 2003 - Table of Contents]