Below are the perspectives of Gregg Wilensky, a theoretical physicist, a photographer and an Adobe scientist, creator of digital photography and art tools in the Photoshop family- “it’s less about the technology itself than it is the expressiveness and interactivity of new infinitely rich media that the technology will enable.”
Our ancestors chipped teardrop, rounded or pear-shaped bifacial Achulean stone hand-axes for over a million years. We can only guess at the joy and spirit evoked in the past by these aesthetically pleasing forms of stone. Were these well-crafted works (of art?) appreciated differently than the cruder Olduwan stone choppers?
Art is a process of reinterpreting natural materials in new ways that inspire us to think differently, to see the world differently, but more importantly to feel a deeper emotional connection. And that is about to change – not the emotion or the goal of art, but rather the means of expressing it in the medium of natural materials.
The physicality of natural media is about to be upended by a revolution in digital expression.
Digital is the new medium. Specifically, interactive, touchable, moveable, sensing digital devices with powerful computing capabilities will become a new source, a new medium for artistic expression that can be as immersive, as immediate and as impactful as natural material media. And at that point the constraints of natural materials no longer will apply; materials are about to be unleashed from their bounds and only limited by the imagination of the digital artist and developer.
Three dimensions, stereoscopic viewing, virtual reality, more pixels, higher dynamic range, larger color gamut… these are a small sampling of technologies which are enriching the digital visual world. But what matters most for an artist is the expression of ideas and emotions in the medium of choice; we just have more choices coming. And, the greater the realism of these new digital media, the greater the challenge an artist has to convey an impactful emotion. Art is at its most potent when it enables us to see and to feel the world in new ways, not necessarily to see it in full realism.
If pixels could enhance our well-being the planet would be on a clear positive path. The quintillions of pixels exchanged around the earth each year should bode well for a more connected, illuminated planet. But what role does this messenger of imagery and its new manifestations play in our understanding, our search for meaning and emotional connection?
I will give only a partial answer to these questions by relaying my personal search through photography for a deeper emotional connection with nature and with abstract art. For me, the promise of digital interactive viewing as a replacement for real media is a near future that will transform my art and how it is experienced. I am helping to develop this technology in my work at Adobe. In the meantime I anticipate this future in a small way by releasing the individual pixel from its preconceived constraints. There has been an expectation of perfection in photography where no pixel should rear its head. In contrast, I try to respect the individual pixel, to relish the imperfections and to bring out the hidden beauty in order to help us linger longer at the threshold of seeing.
Iteration – digital changes the pace of art
Whereas Olduwan and Achulean stone chipping methods progressed on time scales of hundreds of thousands of years, today’s technology is more rapidly advancing to show us a richer, fuller portrayal of the world around us as well as new invented worlds from within. We are capturing more dimensions, more modalities, while at the same time providing more expansive and interactive viewing possibilities. New technologies, such as touchable mobile devices with positional sensing will become the realities of tomorrow; they will shape more and more how we experience the world. Digital viewing will soon reach a point at which it is indistinguishable from the material world. And, at that point, the constraints of our real world will be lifted in new ways.
A craft is perfected, be it stone chopping or photographing, through iteration, continued repetition, learning and improving with each step. Traditional photographers learn from the environment, from their photographs’ expression of it and from the relation of that expression to a personal intention. The more images they take, view and evaluate, the more skill and sensitivity can be applied to both the capture and the expression of a finished photograph.
Photoshop as my digital darkroom
In contrast to the chemical darkroom, which is where I honed my photography skills, the digital darkroom enables an even faster iteration. In my personal art I seek abstraction of a photograph as a journey, an iterative sequence of paths from the source image to the final abstracted rendition. Each rendition sparks an emotional resonance which may lead to a new interpretation with new feelings. Using the digital darkroom, I can readily explore these paths and take my images to new emotive places which I may not have even imagined at the beginning of the process.
While my personal journey to understanding the world matured through studies of theoretical physics, my explorations in art were fostered by dark rooms. My photography, which began in a chemical darkroom, is now enriched by software
such as Photoshop which provides my digital darkroom. The chemical process is for me a meditative experience in dark red and amber spaces with images appearing slowly, nudged along by the warmth of touch and controlled with paper cutouts and hands. But it’s a bit messy and provides but limited control. In contrast, the digital darkroom enables enormous control, down to the scale of the individual pixel or even beyond. But it is harder to obtain that meditative state or to be surprised by the serendipitous results that chemistry can produce.
At Adobe we continue to develop ways to provide even more control. But we also strive to bring back the pleasure and surprise of the darkroom. And this is where the inspiration for art can thrive.
From stone to unbridled digital expression
The technological improvements in shaping stone may have required thousands of years to progress. The technological advances in the past century have been much more rapid. Yet, the pace of innovation in art may accelerate at comparatively unimaginable rates once the material medium is unleashed from its ties to real materials to become an interactive, touchable digital medium.
Today’s device technologies have just reached the point at which this unleashing is feasible. We can probably not even imagine today what the artistic expression of this new medium will bring once mastered by scientists and artists of tomorrow.
The reverence for the individual pixel in my abstract explorations of nature photography produced a new way of perceiving nature’s impressions. But, with new digital technologies, the pixel is about to be untamed beyond even this vision, and the digital image is about to become a more compelling and interactive medium in its own right.