[ISEA2011] Paper: Yi-hui Huang – Investigating the Digital Sublime through Photographers’ Views of Reality: Nathan Baker’s Occupation Project as an Example


The digital sublime refers to digital-composite photography that presents “the existence of something unpresentable” (Lyotard, cited in Linn, 1996, p. 97) and that renders a matchless look – a sophisticated fabrication, a perfect and clean composition, a maximum color saturation, a multiple-point perspective, and stunning or new-fangled content (Foster et al., 2004; Lipkin, 2005; Marien, 2002; Ohlin, 2002). Dissatisfied with the representation of the outer world that can be easily accomplished by pressing a single shutter button, photographers who painstakingly synthesize images together to create the digital sublime seem to be compelled to create personal versions of the world, which may be closer to the beliefs through which they interpret and interact with the world.

To gain a better understanding of these photographers’ digital sublime photographs, I propose that we investigate the artist’s views of reality by asking, “What is your definition of reality?” and “How do you visualize your reality in digital composite?” This paper cites the photographic project Occupations by contemporary photographer Nathan Baker of Chicago as an example.

I first introduce Baker’s process of photographic creation, including his initial feelings, thoughts, ideas, and finally, the actual production. I then relate his definition of reality, and the strategies that he employs to visualize reality in his composite photographs. Next, I interpret and find Baker’s four layers of reality, and cite suitable theory, realism, to explicate his work. Last, I conclude with the finding that the “unpresentable” substance that his photographs try to present reflects Baker’s experiences, comprised of sensory stimulation and intellectual ideas. This study has implications for how digital sublime photographs can be studied and taught.

  • Dr. Yi-hui Huang is Assistant Professor of Media Communication and Technology at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, USA. She teaches several levels of digital photography courses. Her research focuses on knowledge provided by digital photographs, or what we learn from digital photographs, and digital photography aesthetics.

Full text (PDF)  p. 1228-1233 [title slightly different]