By Robert Y. Lee
I believe that the physicality of the print vs. the non-physicality of the digital image is a big deal, and while Geoff Wittig and others have touched on specific aspects, we haven't talked much about that. Digital files don't have a tangible existence—they only exist in potential, are only temporarily decoded into images. Even when one is interpreted as a print, the file retains all of its previous potential manifestations in an abstract limbo state that we like to call "data" or something similar.
Display on a screen? Almost always an ephemeral event on a multipurpose device (a fragile and short-lived device, at that). Can that exact image ever exist again, or be exactly the same on someone else's screen, in their light? This invisible file (temporarily and arbitrarily manifested in points of light) is an essence, an ideal, the locus of infinite possible manifestations physical or electronic.
One has a completely different relationship with a print. Even on a temporary basis, one is forced to deal with a print's physicality—its inherent physical qualities of size, texture, frame, orientation, accessibility. One must physically approach it or retrieve it, and when one is done, leave it behind or put it away. It never stops physically existing until physically destroyed. It is something in and of itself. And, too, the physical qualities change the image, become part of the perception of it. Yes, somewhere there is a negative or a file, but it's merely a suggestion, an idea, a theory, a score...a locus of possibilities. This print, on the other hand, is Something—A Thing, and must be dealt with as A Thing. It takes up space, demands a place, smells, needs protection if it is to remain unharmed and unchanged for long; or perhaps it calls for coloring or marking up or cutting, or needs to be destroyed.
I could go on, obviously, but you get the point. I believe that this is more than just psychology or tradition or a matter of medium, though it is all of those things. Culture might be closer to it. Something like the way our relationship to music was changed by recordings and radio. How can we begin to compare one to the other?
Robert Lee comments on TOP as "robert e."
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