Print Media at the Turn of Millennia

music by Arjun Sen

Some months ago, when the third and last son of Queen Elizabeth of England was finally wed, a digital 'adjustment' was made on his request to one of the more important 'official' photographs of the wedding. Briefly: a momentarily grumpy look caught in the particular frame chosen for the records, of the Prince's nephew (and apparently heir-apparent once removed) was replaced with a smiling one from another of the several frames shot by his uncle from the same angle on the same occasion, for the gathered-family portrait shot.

No secret was made of the switch, and there was therefore not a little raising of eyebrows in some quarters with regard to the blatant 'distortion of history' that seemed implicit to some in this digital modification.

As the very first medium in the long history of imaging which endowed folks with the ability to technologically seize images from (and "of") reality, photography often carried the onerous burden of peoples' expectation that the documentary and news streams of the medium were somehow obliged to always 'honestly' reflect 'reality' and 'truth'.

The pose was pretty much held up by a lot of photographers too. Even into the 1990s in New Delhi for example, grave seminars and newspaper essays mulled over the 'responsibilities' of photography and it's practitioners that arose from this position, and prominent photographers also got together with the Government of India about 1991 to propose and frame an official "Cultural Policy on Photography" which sought to ~amongst other things~ condemn all exercise of creative liscence leaning towards manipulation and romanticism, etc.

A wider and much more reasonable manifestation of this responsibility felt by some photographers impelled a unique school of sub-practice which still fills our galleries with an up-front insistence upon always having photographs printed full-frame, right up to (and including a bit of) the proof of the frame edge! To a certain degree, this could even be said to have become something of a chauvinistic practice through the 1990s ~ especially with social-landscape work.

Other schools of thought of course beat the reverse drum touting esoteric matters such as "selective reality", "Creative freedom", and that seminal question of "What then about what lay/lies beyond the frame edge??" However, it eventually took post-mortems of the photo-history being then written of the Gulf War to make clear how elastic the reality represented by photographs truly always was. On the one hand for example, almost all of the visuals of this war were shot from within the translocated cordon of the peculiar late twentieth century phenomenon called the organized "Photo Op", and on the other hand, it was the image-selection and captioning by distant editors which eventually gave images their meaning for the viewers! For example, apicture of a bashed up Iraqui building could well emerge from the US side with a caption identifying it as "a destroyed military installation which the Iraqi's claimed to be a hospital," while the same picture captioned from the Iraqi side would hold that it was "a destroyed children's hospital which the American's claimed to be a military installation!!"

.. and digital imaging was already deep amongst us! The ultimate denoument of the Cold War was after all being partially played out even then with computer-generated 3D video graphics on television channels of the fictional "Star Wars" missile-shield initiative, and 'proposed' permanent space-station,.. while almost completely ignoring, for the example, that Mir had already been up, running and continuously manned 24 hours a day for years.

Print media eventually caught up the reins on all of this, probably from the simple fact that digital imaging had already become to production processes, and designers, photo-finishers and even cartoonists with digital=tablets had already all taken their work-platforms entirely into virtual space.

Suddenly images were everywhere! Aside from vast reservoirs like the Internet, television, the office intranet and archives all making it into the desktop, and photosyndicates widening their service spread through net-downloads, CDs with thousands of photo and clipart images within each of them became available cheaply (or even free with purchases of computers and peripherals, while appropriation of image elements and the like also slowly began to be an in thing to do as the rational parameters of non-copyright usage evolved.

There's no denying that a huge wave of 'pirated-software' was a primary foundation in this wave of individual empowerment suddenly being wrought about the globe with the spread of computers. But it should also be always said that wage-translation to dollars in many countries of the world had reached unrealistic differentials that rendered 'legal' software prices as outrageously inflated balloons supporting outrageously unreasonable wealth for individuals in outrageously faraway lands.

Also, lots of legit free software started showing up, either bundled with purchases of computers and peripherals (e.g. Corel 6 came free with a printer purchase sometime ago, while Cakewalk Express and Gold came with Creative Labs' sound-cards), or as outright freeware trawled from the net for CDs that started being bundled free with computer print-magazines!

Eventually, between one thing and another, every kid with access to a computer was boning up on digital imaging and 3D and Music and DTP and Programming and what have you!!

As the newsmagazine covers and the print-advertisements accompanying this essay illustrate, the wave is now just about on,.. with a long long way still to go.