Over the past decade, a number of mature artists working with computer imaging have escaped from the seduction of technology as an end in itself and delved into the realm of social critique, idiosyncratic expression, and passion. Various strategies have been employed to offer an experience departing from what has come to be "computer graphics." In the spirit of Melies and Kovacs came Jim Pomeroy.
He came to photography from sculpture and then on to early computer graphic applications on the Amiga computer. The same cultural critic who took on the presumptuousness of Mount Rushmore as sculpture and poked fun at the manned space program in Apollo Jest,
employed computing technologies toward a pictorially intriguing end. Pomeroy brought a playful attitude to difficult subjects. Whether he was building stereoscopic wire frame models of a chicken to be placed in an illusionistic landscape to create a "virtual earthwork" or fashioning an instrument for a new music festival, he brought an attitude to the creation of art through technical means that defied categorization.
As a proponent of new imaging Pomeroy, with Marnie Gillett, organized one of the first important exhibitions to explore the computers and photography.12
Pomeroy's personal modus operandi was to devise new ways to share his eclectic explorations through exhibition, xerox publications, and performances. Jim Pomeroy's work was not fulfilled-he died in 1992 at age 47-but he set a direction in the spirit of Fluxus that moved from object to idea. In many ways, all of his work was interactive in some form and anticipated the emergence of hypertext multimedia artworks. Most of all, Jim Pomeroy stood for art with a conscience.
If I were a 13-year-old and I wanted to create subversive art, I wouldn't
go out and buy an electric guitar. I'd get myself a personal computer.
- Thomas Dolby as quoted in the Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1994.
There are several radically different levels of art making with computers:
- static: produce fine prints in limited editions
- objects: large-scale installation works limited to major museum presentations, usually something to behold rather than play with
- interactivity: either installations or inter-personal media like the compact disc in the form of CD ROM 13.
In many ways the culture of art-making has motivated the directions taken in technologically driven art. More often, those moving from photography to computer technology employ means that they personally control, whereas video and installation artists who have worked collaboratively with artisans and technicians often continue to create monumental works demanding vast resources. Photographers are comfortable in working within spatial transformation while video installation artists often explore temporal values. Different disciplinary methods carry over to new digital media as well. Photographers who would have invested in a Hasselblad and good color-head enlarger now purchase a fast PC or Macintosh with associated imaging equipment. Their working methods remain the same: they invest in the equipment, compose their images, make some proofs and then go to a lab just like they used to do for Cibachrome, only now they make IRIS prints on fine rag paper 14. Those interested in extending the medium into the interactive realm add a steep learning curve to the basic equipment.
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12 Digital photography : captured images, volatile memory, new montage / Paul Berger [et al.] ; curators: Marnie Gillett, Jim Pomeroy. San Francisco : SF Camerawork, 1988. On occasion of the exhibition held at SF Camerawork, June 9-August 13, 1988
13 CD ROM stands for Compact Disc Read Only Memory. CD ROM, like audio CD, is essentially a publishing medium, one that artists are now exploring.
14 Iris Graphics Inc. manufactures a precision ink-jet printer preferred by fine art photographers. Full color images can be printed on surfaces ranging from mylar to elegant rag paper like Rives BFK. Like a conventional photographic laboratory, the IRIS printer requires a major capital investment and trained technicians.