Gallery Panel for Digital Landscapes Exhibition

My world as a photographer is changing. And it’s looking much more like the world I see with my eyes.

For more than twenty years I’ve been making photographs. From an early age I was seduced by the beauty of the photographic print. I wanted to make such beauty. I worked very hard to translate the wonder I saw with my eyes onto paper. It never occurred to me that the craft of photography was anything other than learning to see using a silver-based medium.

As my projects became more complex, I needed to assert ever more control over the context and reproduction of my work. It was natural to use computer technology for the publishing and design tasks related to my photography.

I began to use digital photography programs to do image restoration, scan straightening, spotting, duotone creation and fine-tuning color separations. The control I could assert on a photograph in digital form was not lost on me. I didn’t realize how quickly the technology would evolve. By 1994, I stopped using film to make serious photographs.

I find myself on the edge of a new technology, one that both frees our vision and assaults our sense of truth in photography. For me, the advent of digital photography is not about manipulation. Quite the contrary, it is about seeing more clearly, with less interference and delay from the inspiration.

I am showing, to the best of my ability, what was before the camera. Nothing has been moved, removed, cloned or otherwise digitally enhanced. The natural wonders of the world are already self-embellished, I’ve no need to do anything more than try to be an honest recorder of what I see, using my eyes, imagination and tools to select and capture those views with whatever skill I possess.

I’m recording colors in my photographs that escape film. Highlight detail is holding and shadow detail is opening up like never before. I am making the first archival color photographs of my career. Grain has vanished. I’m seeing the photograph, when I am photographing, on the spot, when I should. As it always should have been.

The fumes of the darkroom are being displaced by the flicker of a screen. Lung disease, supplanted perhaps, by CRT radiation. Art has always been about risk.

Photography has always seemed magic. The shutter clicks, and some unseeable change occurs on silver coated plastic. Nothing seems to have happened. The weight of the film does not increase with the burden of the light it carries. It is a secret, to be revealed by the spirits in the darkroom. Later.

Now the photograph appears as the image is being recorded. There is evidence that something has happened, visual evidence that a photograph has been made. And it can be studied, probed, rephotographed if necessary. And worked closer to perfection and beauty.

The way I think about making a photograph is changing. These photographs are less instantaneous in their witness, but visible on-site while the camera remains ready. Now they take minutes to photograph, and photographic time shifts once again—from an unreal slice of a moment, to an accumulation of time slices over time.

-Stephen Johnson

With a New Eye is a digital photographic survey of selected American National Parks during 1994 through 2004. This project will culminate in a photographic portfolio, a touring art exhibition, a poster, a CD (cataloging the work, demonstrating the technology and discussing the National Park ethic and system), and an interpretive photographic book.

The project employs the Dicomed and Better Light 4x5 digital cameras, and Macintosh laptop computers for completely portable digital photography of very high quality. The camera is capable of color, black and white, and infrared photographs of extremely high resolution and dynamic range (up to 6000 x 8000 pixels, 140mb files with more than 9 stops of exposure latitude). The panoramic images are created by mounting the camera on a rotating head and making a continuous scan up to 370°, (up to 6000 x 65,000 pixels, 1.12gig).

The photographs are previewed in the field, on screen, in order to determine appropriate contrast, exposure and color balance, and to check composition and focus. For documentary and archival purposes, a Global Positioning System Receiver (GPS) is being used to determine the longitude and latitude of the photographs.

Thanks to

Michael Collette (inventor of the Dicomed & Better Light Digital Cameras)

All prints in this exhibit are from my current project
With a New Eye: The Digital National Parks Project
which has been made possible by
Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, BetterLight, DayStar, Dicomed, Digital Pond, FWB, Iris Graphics, Newer Technology, Radius, Ricoh, Sinar Bron

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Last updated on Sept. 19, 2005. Mail comments to:
Photographs and Text Copyright ©2005, Stephen Johnson. All Rights Reserved.