Photographs viewed online suffer from a crushing sameness, without the particular pleasures provided by silver-gelatin, chromogenic, or ink-jet prints. As I’ve edited the issue, the question preoccupying me has been whether it’s possible to have what Michael Fried calls an “absorptive” experience with a photograph online, in which the image can obliterate one’s consciousness of viewing it. And though this condition isn’t related exclusively to form, it requires a certain minimum size and richness of detail—enough to monopolize one’s attention and reveal the photograph’s complexities in the moment of viewing. The challenge here is to charge the JPEG—among other low-grade image-file formats common to the Web—with this task.
What a digital space lacks, it makes up for in the potential for recombination. A tactic common to the projects in this issue is emphasizing relationships among images, whether those belonging to a discrete set authored by the photographer or to the vast cache of vernacular imagery readily accessible online. This is true of Boru O’Brien O’Connell and Simone Gilge’s variations on the slide-show format, Dan Torop’s textual interventions, and Daniel Gordon’s automated amalgamations of his own photographs and those found on the Web. “I wish that each picture…was not forced to be surrounded by just two others,” Geoff Dyer writes in The Ongoing Moment, his book on photography. “Ideally some sections would be adjacent to four or eight or even ten others,” and the book would “emulate the aleatory experience of dipping into a pile of photographs as far as is compatible with the constraints of binding.” Online, liberated from the mechanics of actual space, photographs flash and dissolve, are animated and stilled, merged and isolated, replicated and excerpted. Their vitality is contingent. —— EXCERPT FROM A NOTE ON BLACK BOX BY HANNAH WHITAKER (TRIPLE CANOPY) More from Triple Canopy's new issue on photography.