the post digital world

The heyday of the Leica photography  was 1930 to 1980, a period when the Leica M rangefinder  reigned supreme as the best performing 35mm camera-system for snapshots, reportage and street photography that rested on the principles of craft.   Today Leica, as a  small-scale camera maker  in the digital age,  with its shortening of product cycles,  has  become a niche product for the cognoscenti and a select group of professionals.

 Being ‘critically sharp’ is no longer a standard feature of Leica photographs, nor is  the M digital  camera unique in its compactness or unobtrusiveness or ease of use, as these are also characteristics of the Sony Alpha mirrorless  cameras. The latter can also produce the desired qualities of a picture--qualities as tonality, crispness of fine detail in the midtones, separation of highlight and shadow detail and depth preservation-- and they can use the M + R Leica lenses, which are some of the best lenses ever made. Digital gives photographers  more resources and it evens the playing field.

The  cognoscenti and a select group of professionals include art photographers who continue to use old media technology such as 35m film  in reaction to the  in-your-face, super-saturated, super-contrasty glossy imagery that appears to be the digital norm in photography.  Film, it is argued,  has a different aesthetic---a different look that is softer and grainer---  and it remains more craft-based with a slowness of process. Though digital has a different look to film ---its much more crisp and clean---photographic software can mimic the look of film.  Digital has developed an ‘analogue aesthetic.’ 

Continuing to use 35m film in a digital world  is not limited to grandparents and hipsters hooked on retro,   as it is also grounded in nostalgia for a different world; one in which there was a strong tradition in precision engineering, optical technology,  photography and quality cameras.  One aspect of this nostalgic reaction is a flight away from the complex problematics of a period of crisis and toward the cosy certainties of an earlier age;  another is the rejection of the recombinant media strategies of re-use, appropriation, media-critique, re-presentation, cut-up, “deconstruction,” etc. (often all lumped under the umbrella term: “post-modernism”); another strand  is the desire for purity in reaction to consumerism and the slick digital surface.      

Is this the emergence of a post digital aesthetic that attempts to transgress the shiny facade of a technology promising perfection but which has lots of glitches and bugs in practice including the  deficiencies of digital files?  A post digital aesthetic no longer considers digitalness revolutionary,  and the term “post-digital” best functions  as a descriptor of the reaction of arts to the cultural impact of digitization, rather than  implying  only one single moment of a historical break.