March 30, 2005

Is a photograph more real than a digital image?

In the bonus documentaries that come with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, there's a long demo of a waterfall scene that didn't make the final cut because it slowed down the action. Most of the components of the scene are digitally created, including all the water effects. The artist shows how he created the waterfall from image samples and overlays -- and then added noise and film grain. Film grain. Because the image looked too crisp and perfect.

So by making a digital image look like a photograph, it becomes more "realistic" to our eyes. Isn't that interesting? Photography connotes realism. And we make this judgment -- realistic or not realistic -- when viewing an image, even though we should consciously know that photos can be staged or completely manufactured.

"The medium is the message." -- Marshall McLuhan. When a digital image simulates a photo, is that two messages? Or is it just a mixed message? ;-)

2 comments: said...

It didn't feel any less real when we stood in line for an hour yesterday waiting for our digital prints to load, waiting for the guy behind the counter to dig up the password so that we could use the machine, waiting for the girl who "came in at 6" to process the photos. joy!

teletypeturtle said...

Experience may be as good a definition of realism as any other... (As Morpheus says, "What is real?")