I can’t image that in 100 years from now when people look back at this period of time the digital revolution won’t be considered a real watershed in art and technology.
I saw a digital print for the first time with Graham Nash in 1989 at a place in Los Angeles called George Rice and Sons, which was a large four-color print house that used an Iris printer as a proofing device. Both Nash and I knew we were looking at the future. It was obvious to me not only because of the quality of the output, but because of what the artist could do in the digital darkroom environment that wasn’t possible in the traditional darkroom. It gave photographers a level of control they have never seen before, especially in color, over which you had very little control in the traditional darkroom. It was compelling to be able to digitally edit and regionally correct an image, getting rid of not only small things like scratches, but also elements of the image that got in the way of the photographer’s vision.
There was no question in my mind that digital would move forward, and move forward quickly. We had watched what happened in the recording industry with CDs coming in and replacing traditional LPs. It happened one summer when we were on tour and had just finished an album. We went out to a mall to see what the album looked like and we couldn’t find one anywhere. They were all CDs, and it happed in a matter of six months. So knowing how quickly change was happening in the recording industry I knew that the change was going to happen quickly in the world of photography. Frankly, I thought we’d be further along than we are right now.
Ultimately I think digital will create a new place in the world of art for photography. I think photography will no longer be relegated to a separate division or cubbyhole as it has been in the past in major museums. I think photography will be looked at as fine art for the first time, by itself and by how it interacts with the world of art in general. I think we are seeing the end of traditional photography as we’ve known it over the years. It will no longer be the poor cousin of the art world. It’s going to take its position along side the other traditional types of graphic expression, such as painting and printmaking.
These new tools give photographers a level of self-expression that heretofore has not been available to them. Digital gives photographers the types of tools painters have used for thousands of years, and that’s changing how we look at photography. For so many years photography was looked at as a documentary form of expression. But it has always been more important who’s behind the lens than what’s in front of it. People aren’t just interested in what the lens captures. They’re interested in the vision of the photographer, the artist, behind the lens. It bodes well for the future of photography. If someone wants to continue to do documentary work that’s fine. It doesn’t preclude any of the opportunities for other forms of expression that digital tools provide.