William J. T. Mitchell
[Writer, theorist, and architect, b. 1944, Melbourne, Australia, lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.]

 The myth of digital photography has things exactly upside down. Instead of making photography less credible, less legitimate, digitization has produced a general “optimization” of photographic culture, one in which better and better simulations of the best effects of realism and informational richness in traditional photography have become possible. 
 ...the fear of the image, the anxiety that the “power of images” may finally destroy even their creators and manipulators, is as old as image-making itself. 
 What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses. 
 We can identify certain historical moments at which the sudden crystallization of a new technology (such as printing, photography, or computing) provides the nucleus for new forms of social and cultural practice and marks the beginning of a new era of artistic exploration. The end of the 1830s—the moment of Daguerre and Talbot—was one of these. And the opening of the 1990s will be remembered as another—the time at which the computer-processed digital image began to supersede the image fixed on silver-based photographic emulsion... . From the moment of its sesquicentennial in 1989 photography was dead—or, more precisely, radically and permanently displaced—as was painting 150 years before. 
 ...the thing that’s really fundamentally changed is we all become a sort of locus of surveillance and being surveyed at the moment. So it’s a decentralised system, it’s not a centralised system in the same way that the original panopticon was. A very good example of that is what’s happened with camera phones. They’ve just got themselves worked into the culture and all of a sudden all over the world we have these millions of wireless devices that have video capture devices on them. And any place in the world is potentially electronically visible instantly any place else, it’s absolutely amazing. But it’s not a centralised thing, it’s a decentralised candid system. 
 The “taking” of human subjects by a photographer (or a writer) is a concrete social encounter, often between a damaged, victimized, and powerless individual and a relatively privileged observer, often acting as the “eye of power,” the agent of some social, political, or journalistic institution. 
 The tools of traditional photography were well suited to Strand’s and Weston’s high-modernist intentions—their quest for a mind of objective truth assured by a quasi-scientific procedure and closed, finished perfection. 
 Picture, what do you want of me? 
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