It’s reality that astounds these days PDF
Written by Pedro Meyer   


Replicants © Pedro Meyer 2004


We are reminded that “today the real has become the new avant-garde” by Nicholas Rombes.


The irony is that as digital technologies are used to deliver ever greater special effects and fantasies, there is an alternative tendency to use digital video cameras not to transform reality into some special effect, but rather to describe the world with increased realism.


In a sense as Mr Rombes points out, the new aesthetics - evident in recent movies shot with digital cameras, such as “Ten” (Abbas Kiarostami, 2002), "Tape” (Richard Linklater, 2001) and “Time Code” (Mike Figgis, 2000), “Russian Ark” (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002) - rely on a species of strict formalism (the long take, the divided frame, etc) to remind us that reality is the most experimental form of all.


“Russian Ark” constitutes an elaborate continuous 96 minute long take through the Hermitage Museum [ only possible to achieve with digital cameras, since no film based camera could run for such a long period with out having to reload film]. “Time Code” is a series of four separate 97 minute long takes simultaneously shown in four quadrants. “Ten” is entirely shot (without the director present) from digital cameras mounted on the dashboard of a car as it is driven through the streets of Teheran. “Tape” take place en-tirely in one hotel room. In a sense, the special effect that the links these digital films to-gether is reality itself; they are considered experimental or avant-garde simply because they lack the jump-cut, speed ramp, freeze frame, CGI aesthetics that now form mass cultural media forms ranging form television commercials, to music videos, to video games, to television shows, to mainstream movies.”


When watching the Trilogy of the Lord of the Rings with my nine year old son, Julio, he leaned over to me and asked if all those people marching were real as we were looking at one of those scenes with thousands of marching warriors. Some twenty years ago we would have been amazed to learn that indeed they were special effects. Today we are amazed to learn if such a crowd is, in fact, real. It is reality that astounds us these days.


As I have been traveling around the world these past months, what has astounded me is how universal the trend has been to view the world through the eyes of what has be-come understood as digital technologies. But these understood for their special effects and not at all for the possibility to view the real, in new ways.


We live in an increasingly fictionalized world. On the one hand we have politicians of every stripe possible, all over the planet, delivering the most preposterous manipulation of reality with words and images ( they call them photo ops), and on the other hand we have the conglomerate of news media, from print to television, also on a world wide ba-sis, contributing in no small way to fictionalize reality to the extent that news events are sometimes so deliberately distorted or dramatized that one has a hard time figuring out what was real.


However just as in cinema, digital technologies are coming to the aid in bringing new forms to the medium, we find that in still photography something similar is starting to emerge.


Photographers who no longer have the need to cater to the demands by the news me-dia conglomerates and their dictates for what can and can not be presented to the pub-lic, are starting to find new venues to show their work. In that sense the internet has al-lowed many such filters to be lifted, thus we can deliver information as close to the facts as that might even be possible.


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End of an era © Pedro Meyer 2004


In keeping with reality, after more than a decade of not needing to ever go back into the darkroom to make a print, I decided to finally pack up all that darkroom equipment and place it storage for my great great grand children, so that one day they can look at those strange things with which we once used to make photographs with.


Although I am not nostalgic in the least, I must say that taking all those items and pack-ing them away was not so easy. After all many of those things were with me for dec-ades. Now, ask me if I regret getting rid of these objects, and I must say that not for a second. I am totally delighted to be able and move on and live in the digital age, for ever after. During this past decade, not once was I even tempted to step back into the dark-room. There is just too much fun to be had in the “light room”.


As I was putting all my darkroom objects in storage, I was also packing away all those envelopes of photographic paper. Among the names on these envelopes, Ilford ap-peared. In a peculiar twist of circumstances, this week also, Ilford was in the process of being bought out by it’s employees to see if it they can salvage the firm from financial ruin. Already Hasselblad went through a similar need to restructure itself, after going through a financial crisis of it’s own not too long ago. Polaroid was auctioned off some time back, and Kodak the once dominant name in photography, the world over, has a market value which is but a fraction of Apple, a firm that did not even exist in it’s days of glory. Now we get news that Leitz gmbh, the manufacturers of Leica cameras, is algo going under as their strategy to enter the digital market has proven to be one failure af-ter the next, and now the banks have cut their credit lines after Leitz lost half of it’s work-ing capital this past year.


In spite of all the mounting evidence that there is simply no way back and that analog photography is nothing more than just a period in the history of photograpy, and that we are only going in one new direction: which is digital. You will wonder, how it is possible that if you see all those stalwarts of analog photography come stumbling down, anyone would still doubt the direction of were photography is headed. Yet, believe it or not, that is what still is going on. I am sure the irony will not escape you, that those who disbelief the most what is happening, place themselves square in the midst of “ photographic re-alism”. It’ reality what astounds these days.


Pedro Meyer
March, 2005
Coyoacan, Mexico City


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