It is interesting to note that while we are led to believe that in photography the digital age is upon us, we are still far from understanding what it actually means. Despite the fact that for almost as long as we can think back photographs have been manipulated to show things not quite the way they were - with the Soviet Union’s erasing of disgraced persons being an especially perfidious example - and despite the fact that every little technical choice - colour versus b/w, saturated versus unsaturated, how to frame and how to crop, etc. - chips away at the idea of the absolute photographic truth, many of us still believe that a photograph shows us things the way they are; and the digital era has now brought the subject matter of photo manipulations into focus.
I have always thought that digital technologies are least interesting where they are merely a different tool (and that’s what most discussions still appear to be centered on) and most interesting where they enable doing something new. Why bother talking about something that reduces to a question of convenience? But what then is new?
Beate Gütschow’s LS/S is a prime and excellent example of the use of digital technologies in photography. LS/S contains two parts. The first part (“LS”) shows colour photographs of what looks like classical landscapes (the German word for landscape is Landschaft, here abbreviated as “LS”); the second part (“S”) shows b/w photographs of dystopian cityscapes (Stadt - “S” - means city in German). None of these photographs are actual photographs in the classical sense. It’s a bit easier to see in the second part, but each and every photo was meticulously constructed from many individual parts, using a computer.
The effect is very impressive. The landscapes do indeed look like classical landscapes, an idyllic beauty, which, however, is not real. And the cityscapes, assembled from the city wastelands that have become so pervasive in our Western world, feel somewhat threatening, and because not all proportions are realistic (even though they’re not so far off that one notices right away), the unease grows the longer one looks at them. I can’t think of a more interesting way to use digital photography, and it’s interesting to note that it is mostly Germans - who, or so goes the narrative, brought us the ultimate photographic objectivity - now disassemble the notion of objectivity so convincingly.
Of course, you can stick with, say, street photography and say that there is just so much more out there to be seen than to be found in your own - limited - imagination. Beate Gütschow’s LS/S very convincingly exposes the flaw in that thinking: There are no limits to photographic imagination.