I knew the Spice Girls

The student is asked to read the short Essay “I knew the Spice Girls” by Joan Fontcuberta.

Fontcuberta asks the question regarding the space between analogue and digital photography, he does this by exploring the use of digital technology in a London Photobooth the place himself alongside the Spice Girls for a photograph which he could then use to impress his young daughter.

Fontcuberta rightly places the use of analogue chemical film photography into the minority “craft” interest, for example there was a recent rush within what could be described as the hipster community to procure and use Holga cameras with their 60mm plastic lenses. There has also been an uptake in technology through 3D printing to allow people to develop film at home without the use of a darkroom, but still using a chemical process to develop the film.

For me, the key drivers behind the rose of digital photography are

  • Mobile Processors
  • Cheap digital Memory
  • Icon driven operating systems
  • Battery technology

Without any one of these 4 key drivers, cameras would be large heavy items, similar to the photobooth as used by Fontcuberta. As the technology advanced, the costs went down, and the technology moved to many different platforms including the ubiquitous mobile phone. Now everyone can be a photographer by allowing the “computer” to control the full functions of the camera allowing for better image capture without the requirements of knowledge.

Fontcuberta is correct in stating that the camera has become an instrument of industrialisation; it has gone further in my opinion. The camera is now the instrument of media, marketing, entertainment, and surveillance. When George Orwell wrote of mass surveillance in his book 1984, he could not possible have imagined that we would purchase, install and use the cameras on ourselves with our own free will.

In as much as any artform abides by a set of rules, painting, film photography and digital photography all use the same set of rules such as balance, space, line, perspective which make up composition. The difference between them is how the image is finally produced. The author places analogue/film photography between painting and digital photography, as he feels that there is a natural movement from one to the other. He places analogue photography in between as if it is an interruption to the philosophical and technological movement from painting to digital composition. However, analogue photography was used to provide, first of all for scientific evidence and backup, before it moved into a more mainstream position of being a catch all for providing evidence of everything from landscapes to holidays. Without this societal requirement for the mechanical replication of images, digital photography would be a somewhat sparce idea. The belief that analogue photography captured the essence of truth, for what was captured within the scene could be examined and proved.

As Fontcuberta states, digital photography has broken with the idea of the photograph as proof, his simple image from the photobooth belies the hidden truth that the image is not real it was purpose created by a marketing team to allow people to falsely insert themselves into an unreal narrative.

The unreal narrative and the manipulation of an image digitally has started the discussion on the ethics of digital manipulation, how far is too far? As a society the technological process for image manipulation has been demystified and made easy to use at the touch of a finger, and with that knowledge we are now aware of dangers in its use.


Fontcuberta, J. and Mack (Maison D’édition (2014). Pandora’s camera : photogr@phy after photography. London: Mack.

Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. London: Penguin Books.

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