[ISEA2014] Paper: Yi-hui Huang — Invisible Realities in Digitally Synthesized Photographs


With the rapid advancement of technology in the photographic industry, more photographers, including Jeff Wall, Pedro Meyer, Gregory Crewdson, Barry Frydlender, and Loretta Lux, are tremendously relying on the digital facilities (Sung, 2008) and embracing the style of digitally synthesized photographs. Using computers to combine pieces of images, digital synthesis requires a new method of production and renders a matchless look—a sophisticated fabrication, a perfect and clean aesthetic, a maximum color saturation, a multiple‑point perspective, and stunning or newfangled content (Marien,  2002; Ohlin, 2002; Foster, Krauss, Bois, & Buchloh, 2004; Lipkin, 2005). Abandoning the traditional one‑shot mode of production that produces so‑called truth‑laden photographs, digital photographers use computers to combine various pieces of many images together to construct a new photograph. This method of production creates digital synthesis, which is generally considered having little association with truth or realities. Dissatisfied with the representation of the outer world that can be easily accomplished by pressing a single shutter button, however, photographers who painstakingly synthesize images together seem to be compelled to create personal visions of the world. These photographers concretize their visions that cannot be seen with the naked eye and that are closer to the beliefs through which they interpret and interact within the world. To gain a better understanding of these photographers’ digital‑synthesized photographs, I investigate the photographer’s worldview, or what s/he values as knowledge. A more approachable way to inquire into a digital photographer’s knowledge is to ask about his or her view of reality with questions such as “What is your definition of reality?” “What notion of reality do you represent in your photographs?” and “How do you visualize your reality in photographs?” After knowing their layers of reality, the deepest and the most sophisticated layer can be considered as their knowledge, which may explain the invisible realities presented to viewers.

This paper investigates what invisible entities the digital synthesis attempts to represent. This study presents four American photographers whose constant style is the digital synthesis: Jaime Kennedy (Ohio), Tom Bamberger (Wisconsin), Tom Chambers (Virginia), and Nathan Baker (Illinois). This study employs an interpretivist methodology with which I aimed to investigate artists’ intentions, meanings, and worldviews behind their actions of producing digital composites, as well as their views on the digital medium. In order to do so, one‑on‑one interview was selected as the main method for data collection. In addition, I collected other supportive data, including their artist statements and publications. After the analysis of individual artist, I discuss several findings drawn from the previous investigation. For the implications to photographic education, this study suggests that in order to appreciate and teach about the knowledge provided by digitally synthesized photographs, photographic educators need to incorporate pedagogies that address both the appreciation of fine arts and the critiques of visual culture in classrooms, so as to pay attention to the aesthetics features of artworks and a deepened understanding of their contexts.

  • Yi-hui Huang, University of Pennsylvania, USA