A journey from documentary to digital photography


Review by meredith bull

2 days before the Ides of March, four years before the end of the century.

This CD-ROM from Pedro Meyer is a project developed from an exhibition titled the same. The project spanned eight years and is a journey from documentary style photography to digital photography. The images contained in this CD-ROM have been altered digitally to present distinctions and differences in the cultures of the United States and Mexico. Pedro Meyer has entered the "Brave New World of Photography" using digital technology. He describes this transition through a variety of analogies. He compares the changes in his photography to hypertext; photographs as words, altered and manipulated, similar to the utilization of a word processor. The CD-ROM itself is a commentary or review of the medium. Pedro states that the ever changing nature of technology will prove the very tool he uses already part of the past. The attempt in this CD-ROM is to present the cultural aspects presented as less volatile than the technology itself. He closes the introduction with two statements, I though relevant and pretty cool.
"I don't think these are right answers or wrong answers. At best there can be good questions which in turn might lead to open minds." (Introduction).
The other statement is a quote from a letter included in the Correspondence section. "Art, it seems, thrives wherever it is set free of expectations." (Jim Enyeart, Correspondence)

The organization of the presentation is divided into roughly four parts visible from the first screen: an Introduction, the Gallery, Correspondence, and the Digital Studio. The Introduction is a quick-time movie accompanied by Pedro Meyer describing the project from his perspective. From here you can also view the credits as rolling text and read Pedro's acknowledgements, quite lengthy and informative. This text section presents the clearest text description of the project as it was developed. There is a brief explanation of how to use the disk. A help button (small rectangle with a question mark) will explain any screen you are on as long as the icon is present. This was useful to understand the design of the project and gave some indication of how to manuever. Pedro says at one point, "you can even stop to answer the telephone if need be." Very nice of him to give us that option.

The Gallery contains the images which can be viewed three different ways. The Narration path presents the images with critical commentary from Jonathan Green, Director of the California Museum of Photography and integral part of the project development. His voice is soothing and interesting and the audio/video combination (multimedia) is intriguing. A rewind button in this section would have been nice. It is possible to move from one image to next but you cannot select an image number to view nor are there thumbnails to select. Only the photographic images without their titles are displayed, slightly annoying to me. The value of viewing the image without the title does emphasize the image itself. The Index section shows five pages of thumbnails which are clickable. Larger versions of the photos are shown as hanging on the wall with their title labels. Full size images are found by clicking as well as a readable versions of the title labels. The title labels all indicate whether or not the image is altered; there are some that are not. There are icons at the bottom menubar that when pressed will show the derivation of the photographic image, or the narration from J. Green and some text. Not all of these options are available for every image but it is clearly presented and easy to manuever around in. The menubar at the top of the page will tell you what section of the part you are in and give you some options. The sound or moving images stop when you move from the map of the image and its menubars.

The Correspondence is divided into two sections, Quotes and Letters. From the quotes you can get the full text of the Letter. Each letter has a sidebar with a biography of the author and a list to use for finding other authors. Pedro solicited writings and communication from colleagues and artists all over the world on the subject of digital photography and in particular his use of it in this medium. With each letter is a link to a re-presentation of the original letter. These are great fun; disks, postcards, handwritten letters and cassette tapes with audio included. The means of the communication is as meaningful as the content. There is not subject or pro/con analysis available and so one must peruse and read what one will. The quotes give an indication of the author's position of view point. Some subject analysis of the letters would facilitate a little more continuity in the thoughts, very possibly this was intentional, I certainly would have done it this way. There is a geographical list of the authors and also an alphabetical one. The critical and not so critical comments or discussions are essential to understanding the project and also lessen the singularity of only Pedro's point of view.

The best section by far is the Digital Studio. This is the smallest of the sections, only twenty images. Here, Pedro explains the compositions of the photographs. The individual images used in each digital photograph to produce the amazingly poignant and seamless images are shown with Pedro's voice to explain why and how he combined these images. "Art, it seems, thrives whenever it is free of expectations" again. Either a Guided Tour or Index are the available paths. It is amazing after viewing the photographs through the other means to be able to see the photographs as the basis for the final image. This section sort of exemplifies his point. Quicktime movies from slides demonstrate some of the actions and interactions leading to the thoughts behind the altered images. Pedro embraces the digital studio, something many comment on in the Correspondence section. While realizing it's limitations he also uses it as a developed tool.

One problem I had was the color. I viewed this CD-ROM on a computer that could not increase to thousands or millions of colors and so saw only grayscale. I looked briefly at "Truths and Fictions" in another setting and was astounded at the color possibility. The images were very clear and wonderful to view. Resolution, if I understood it better I could explain it, was awesome. One other problem is the Introduction mentioned a Roadmap that was supposed to accompany the CD, but it was not in the copied notebook on reserve. A visual navigation accompaniment would have been an asset.

As the title suggests this CD-ROM is bilingual. You can read and listen in both English/Ingles and Spanish/Espanol (sorry didn't want to look up the diacritics). There is a choice at the beginning but you can switch back and forth using the top menubar at anytime. This feature was educational and I was thoroughly entertained listening in Spanish. The 'original letters' appeared as they did originally, meaning they did not change if you switched the language option while viewing them. With all his alteration of the originals, so they appear as seamless juxtaposed images, he does not allow the alteration of these originals.

One of the most interesting and I think wonderful things about this CD-ROM is the way in which it is a review of the medium itself, of technology and the fleeting- ness of it. The hopefulness that the culture shown in the photos and those images, saved and viewed as the purpose of the project, are definitely not ignored as merely being incidental. Is it still considered photography - some correspondence says no. Pedro makes a pretty good case for himself throughout the CD-ROM. The CD-ROM was made for this man's project or he made the project for this technology. He explains his use of technology - in the purposeful alteration of photographic images using a CD-ROM as the meduim - exacting for his purpose or exacting the technology? As Pedro says- "I don't think these are right answers or wrong answers. At best there can be good questions which in turn might lead to open minds." (Introduction).

There is a real difference in this CD-ROM and the "stoner CD-ROMs" (quoted from some guy at Shaman Drum Bookshop). I found the Resident's Freakshow, Laurie Anderson's Puppet Motel and a couple others to not be to my liking. As pointed out by B. Brynteson, these CD-ROMs are more likely to appeal to someone who knows and loves technology and its embodiments for our entertainment. I have not much patience with "stoner CDs" and am glad to see the educational utility of CD-Roms advancing as the design and understanding increase. I feel I have almost contradicted myself, but still, there is education in art and in being stoned, one would assume. One CD-ROM I perused, but did not review, was the Jack Kerouac Beat Generation CD. This was exceptionally well organized and had many features I would hope would continue in future designs. The help button in this realm, stopped the screen and showed tags for everything you could select on that particular page, including where you were and how to get back to where you came from. Maybe my non-adventurousness or my lack of patience for stoner type activities inhibits me from enjoying some of these. Maybe it is a mode of entertainment I don't yet want to include in my entertainment vocabulary. Maybe they are too expensive and seem like a waste of time.

an addendum...

A couple (or three) other reviews of this CD tauting it as - must sees, totally awesome and a definite "drop $40.00 bucks on it".

review one



meredith b bull
interesting aside...
an addendum...