and adaptable, photography continues to evolve. At the century's end, it
is undergoing yet another metamorphosis. The familiar components of the
darkroom, film and attendant chemistry-may soon be as anachronistic as
wet plates, daguerreotypes and paper negatives. Combined with computer
technology, the camera lens may soon be the only element of photography
directly descended from the camera obscura.
In 1963, D. Gregg,
an inventor at Stanford University, created a crude forerunner to digital
photography. The videodisk camera could photograph and store images for
several minutes. Although they were as transient as the "faerie pictures"
of photography's early years, videodisk images foreshadowed an emerging
In 1979, Philips'
and Sony's collaboration on the videodisk made digital imagery a practical
reality. Using computer technology, sound and images were digitally recorded
and then imprinted as micro-pits on a disk. A laser then optically scanned
the information, and converted it into pictures and sound on a home TV.
Although a superior technology, the video disk languished commercially.
The more affordable and flexible medium of video tape soon dominated the
lucrative home video market.
The video disk
seemed a costly failure for the producing companies, particularly RCA.
But with the release of the compact disc (CD) audio technology in the 1980s,
the video disk reemerged as digital photography.
Film, so carefully
crafted and refined over one hundred years, is not in imminent peril of
disappearing. The writing, however, may be on the wall.
In the mid 1970s,
Kodak and other companies began investigating filmless technologies that
could capture images with solid state circuitry. In 1986, Kodak succeeded
in creating a sensor that could record 1.4 million picture elements, or
megapixels. In the 1990s the first digital cameras appeared for commercial
Currently Kodak offers a professional digital camera that is capable of
storing an image with six million picture elements. Kodak has also introduced
a camera capable of shifting between a macro lens, a 35mm lens, and a wide-angle
panoramic lens with the push of a button.
quality of digital imagery has improved dramatically, professional photographers
still prefer film stock for their work. Digital imagery is gaining a foothold
where instant photography once reigned.
The 20th century
might well be remembered as the era of the photograph. Rarely has there
been an invention so universally embraced and disseminated. Each day any
human being within range of a news stand, television or cinema is bombarded
by thousands of potent images. The photograph has become our basic visual
currency, its imposed aesthetic filters our perceptions of the world and
who we are.
And still, this
powerful medium evolves and changes. Linked to computers, bounced from
satellites, and projected in countless billions of eyes, the world itself
becomes a medium for the magic lantern show. As this century closes, it
is increasingly difficult for humans to distinguish between the reality
they experience and the reality imposed through visual mediums. Perhaps
in the end, they are one and the same.