ART PROPOSAL: Re-shoot: Repetition, Representation and Reality in the Digital Imaging Production Process – 2500 words media essay

  1. Student


2. Provisional Project Title


Re-shoot: Repetition, Representation and Reality in the Digital Imaging Production Process


  1. Topic/ area of research


With developments in digital technologies, the relationship between representation and the real has been consistently challenged by both theorists and practitioners in photography and video. While, traditionally, photography has been seen as an index of the real, digital photography now carries with it assumptions of manipulation and construction. On one hand, this may challenge photography’s trustworthiness as documentation, but on the other hand it opens up new possibilities for the image, its effect and perception. Many photographers have made work which engages with issues of how imaging technologies have changed our relationship to reality. One way they have done this is through, in a self-aware way, making the image-production process more transparent, revealing work as fiction and so focusing on the processes of construction involved, for political or other reasons. Taking these processes of transparency even further, I propose to shoot a photograph using digital technology, but document the entire process through digital video, posting the result to be viewed on internet platform YouTube. This raises issues not only about the process of digital photography, but also how developments in digital have effected the conventions, expectations and distribution structures of digital video. My final project will be a video of a digital photographic production, framing the whole process in order to draw attention to conventions normally absent from such photographic work.


  1. Aims of Project


  • Using digital photography, to produce a replica image of an iconic image made using film photography.
  • To explore the differences between uses of technologies and the theoretical impact they may have on questions of representation and reality.
  • To produce a documentary of the process using digital video; to upload this for internet viewing.
  • To examine issues raised by the use of the documentary video format and digital distribution platform.




5. Literature Review and Product Research


In relation to the development of digital photography, some writers have focused on historical accounts of how technologies have changed. William Mitchell for example traces a history back to the 1950s and mechanical drum scanners, through more sophisticated image processing systems which he proposes as developing from space exploration programmes, up until the 1980s, into more accessible personal technologies such as compact digital cameras and laser scanners. Mitchell highlights this moment as the democratization of image processing technology:


The means to capture, process, display, and print photograph-like digital images – which had hitherto been available only in a few specialized scientific laboratories and print shops – now fell within reach of a wide community of artists, photographers and designers. (Mitchell 1992: 18)


Some such as Mitchell see this as a revolutionary moment for photography. Other writers such as Brian Winston are less enthusiastic, preferring to locate the moment as a slowly developing historical change despite the “great deal of professional hyperbole” (Winston 2003: 140). The idea that technology was a definite break from the past has also been challenged by Robins (1995). Firmly in the revolutionary camp, Jonathan Crary described “a transformation in the nature of visuality [caused by digital technology] probably more profound than the break that separates medieval imagery from Renaissance perspective” (Crary 1993: 1). According to Crary the privileged position of perspective which has been dominant since the Renaissance had now been challenged by the possibility of removing the human, and the associated human viewpoint and perception, from the image entirely. Lev Manovich proposes a view in-between, that developments in digital photography are complex enough to be both a radical break and a continuity:


The digital image tears apart the net of semiotic codes, modes of display, and patterns of spectatorship in modern visual culture – and, at the same time weaves this net even stronger. The digital image annihilates photography while solidifying, glorifying and immortalizing the photographic. (Manovich 2003: 241)


According to Manovich then, while digital photography may have challenged elements of visual culture, creating new modes of spectatorship and display for example, it has also set itself into that tradition in order to re-affirm the photograph. Although developments can be traced back historically, it is certainly the case that new potentials have been opened up by developments in digital photography. Winston himself points out that, “there is now considerable potential for manipulation to the point where the value of the photograph as evidence might well come to be questioned” (Winston 2003: 139-40). This shift from photograph as supposedly trusted index of reality to something artificially constructed without necessarily having any basis in reality has also been focused on by other writers. Liz Wells contrasts how “photography was associated with truth, realism and evidence” (Wells 2008: 304) but now enabled “new ways of seeing the world and changing the very cultural status of images” (304).


Two main points are evident here. Firstly that while photography has always been based on processes of subjective framing, selection and exclusion, it had been culturally seen as an authentic representation of the real, a link now no longer to be trusted in the digital. Secondly, this is not necessarily negative but instead opens up new possibilities for representation to go beyond human perception in the construction of, say, impossible perspectives, colours or connections, previously not accessible. Both of these tendencies can be seen in theoretical writing. Some writers are critical of the way representations have been detached from reality. Fredric Jameson for example, in his definitions of the postmodern links developments in representational styles to capitalist ideologies and bemoans the fact that history has become “ a vast collection of images…the past as ‘referent’ finds itself gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether, leaving us with nothing but texts” (Jameson 1999: 2005). Other theorists of the postmodern have also focused on the effect of digital technologies on concepts of reality. For Baudrillard, as postmodern representation has become simulation, which “bears no relation to reality whatsoever” (Baudrillard 1999: 198), the real must instead be constantly produced elsewhere, “what society seeks through production, and overproduction, is the restoration of the real which escapes it” (199). Others are more optimistic about the potentials of new technologies.

Charlotte Cotton for example has described the potentially inhuman effect of digital photography in relation to the work of Dan Holdsworth.


The image has a distinctly non-human atmosphere, as if showing us an essence that could not be seen by the naked eye. Rather than asking who took the photograph, one might reasonably ask what took it. (Cotton 2004: 95)


She suggests that, in the machinic effect of the image, new possibilities for perception are suggested, recalling Deleuze and Guattari’s calls to make experimental assemblages with technical or other apparatuses in order to expand the possibilities of thought limited by specific human actualization (Deleuze & Guattari 2007: 277). Cotton also suggests that the use of digital technologies changes the way we engage with the image:


The adoption of a deadpan aesthetic moves art photography outside the hyperbolic, sentimental and subjective. These pictures may engage us with emotive subjects, but our sense of what the photographer’s emotions might be is not the obvious guide to understanding the meaning of the images. (81)


Here she proposes that a ‘deadpan’ aesthetic, made possible by the foregrounding of technological apparatus over human intervention suggests a way of reading the image, not in relation to the photographer’s subjectivity or emotion, but in other possible ways. These differences will be important for me to consider when thinking about the differences between my shot and the older photograph which I re-shoot. The production process, image and modes of engagement will all be different.


Overall then, digital photographic technologies have challenged conceptions of the real, authenticity and documentation. Theorists have engaged with this in various ways, some focusing on a loss of reality, and others on technological potential. Photographers have also engaged with the paradoxes inherent in new technologies. Alexandra Mir’s First Woman on the Moon (2001) for example refers to the conventions of documentary photography in order to create an objective effect. The long-shot image of a landscape, at first glance looks like a documentary image, suggesting the associations of truth and authenticity inherent to this. By referencing these codes, we view the image as a historical record, documenting an event. However, looking closer, details on the image show diggers constructing the landscape. It is not an objective record but a ‘fake’ revealing the way the scene has been constructed, not a ‘real’ moon landing but a manipulated image. By drawing attention to these processes of ‘fakery’ in a self-aware way, she draws attention to the constructed nature of contemporary photography in general. In this context, such work has a feminist agenda, she draws attention to the writing of history from a supposedly objective (but actually male) perspective, which excludes feminine experience. Other photographic work has also used similar techniques in relation to political issues. The Atlas Group use documentary photography techniques and fictional narratives, alongside work in notebooks and videos, in order to explore, challenge and redefine ways that the Lebanon has been represented in the media. The Fakhouri Notebooks (1998) for example, showing pictures of a man at tourist sights in Europe, draw on codes of the tourist snapshot and its associations of spontaneity, authenticity and trivial historical record. The images however, are part of a fictional narrative of a Lebanese historian, drawing attention to how images can use such codes to create truth effects, while being simultaneously deceitful. As Carlos Basualdo has argued, “the aim is to compose an archive of a fictional nature that both criticizes the feigned objectivity of historical discourse and dimantles the supposed autonomy of artistic work” (Basualdo 2002: 26). Their strategy challenges the supposed objectivity of history writing and the status of the photograph as record itself.


There has been an overlap with developments in digital photography and in digital video production. There has also been a massive democratization of technology with lightweight and cheap digital cameras allowing a large number of non-specialist people to shoot videos, and developments in internet distribution including platforms such as You Tube, allowing anyone with internet access to download and watch them. The easy availability of editing software has, in a related way, challenged the claim to truth of video genres such as the documentary. Stella Bruzzi for example has described documentary as, “the perpetual negotiation between the real event and its representation (that is to propose that the two remain distinct but interactive)” (Bruzzi 2008: 15). This ‘negotiation’ is now more evident with digital technologies. On one hand, conventions of the handmade style and shaky hand-held camera have become signifiers of the ‘authenticity’ of home production made possible with the spread of digital. This style can be seen, used for different effects, across the media from film productions such as The Blair Witch Project (1999) to recent advertising for Weetabix cereals (2008). As the style has become so widespread, there is an increasing awareness of the construction of documentaries, moving away from their status as objective historical record. Bruzzi uses the term ‘performative documentary’ to describe a mode of documentary which “emphasizes – and indeed constructs the film around – the often hidden aspect of performance, whether on behalf of the documentary subjects or the filmmakers” (Bruzzi 2008: 185). She goes on to describe its effect:


The performative element within the framework of non-fiction is thereby an alienating and distancing device, not one which actively promotes identification and a straightforward response to a film’s content. (185)


This alienating effect has been used differently by different filmmakers, but operates mainly, in this context, to complicate the viewer’s response, removing it from simple identifcation with subjects as characters, and may allow a focus on, for example, ideologies of the selection and exclusion process, or an awareness of the role played by technologies. Examples of this mode could include Nick Broomfield’s work such as Biggie and Tupac (2002), where the presence of the documentary maker is constantly drawn attention to with Broomfield’s own appearances in front of the camera wearing big headphones and carrying a boom mic like a caricature of one of the documentary crew. Rather than just watching his subjects, we watch him watching them and engaging with them, creating a more complex relationship between viewer and screen. Louis Theroux’s TV documentaries such as recently Law and Disorder in Philadelphia (2008) also employ such techniques. In this case, Theroux’s persona allows him to get more material by acting in a disengaged fashion, and we are aware of this watching the programme, leading to more tension in the relationship between crew and subjects. The effect of such focus on performance is to challenge claims of the documentary to transparent objectivity, revealing how it is constructed, and in what interests. By laying such emphasis on the process and performance involved in my won work, I intend to further challenge these claims, in order to focus on how changes in technology have effected simple acts of photography and documentation. I will draw on these various threads of research focused around the increased use of digital technologies in photography and documentary video, and the way they effect our changing relationships to representation and reality. Experimenting with my own production will allow me to engage with these histories in a more productive way and reach my own conclusions.


  1. Technologies to be employed and resources


Digital photography

Digital Video

Final Cut Pro



  1. Project plan


After completing this proposal, I will continue to research areas suggested by my literature review. This will include research into photography history and the selection of an appropriate image for me to recreate. After further research, I will plan my shoot with a timeline, and plan the documentary with storyboards. I will shoot the video, edit it and distribute it. Finally, I will write the evaluation in order to assess how my project has gone and how my aims have been met.


8. Bibliography


The Atlas Group (1998) The Fakhouri Notebooks,


Basualdo, C. (2002) ‘The Atlas Group’ in Documenta 11: Exhibition Catalogue . Kassel: Hatje Kantz.


Broomfield, N. (Dir.) (2002) Biggie and Tupac. Film Four, UK.


Baudrillard, J. (1999) ‘The Evil Demon of Images and the Precession of the Simulacra’ in Postmodernism: A Reader, Ed. T. Docherty. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf.


Bruzzi, S. (2008) New Documentary, 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge


Cotton, C. (2004) The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London: Thames & Hudson.


Crary, L. (1993) Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge MA, The MIT Press.


Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (2007) A Thousand Plateaus. London: Continuum.


Jameson, F. (1999) ‘Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ in Postmodernism: A Reader, Ed. T. Docherty. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 62-92.


Mir, A. (2001) ‘First Woman on the Moon’,


Mitchell, W.J. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


Myrik, D. and Sanchez, E. (Dirs.) (1999) The Blair Witch Project. Haxan Films, UK.


Robins, K. (1991) ‘Into the Image: Visual Technologies and Vision Cultures’ in P.Wombell (ed.) PhotoVideo: Photograpy in the Age of the Computer. London: Rivers Oram Press.


Theroux, L. (Dir.) (2008) Law and Disorder in Philadelphia, Channel 4, UK.


Wells, L. (2008) Photography: A Critical Introduction, 3rd Edition. London & New York: Routledge.


Winston, B. (2003) Media Technology and Society London & New York: Routledge.


‘The Weetabix Week’ (2008),