The unrelenting tsunami of digital photography has triggered sweeping changes in the field of image capture over the last decade or so. More recently, the proliferation of powerful and inexpensive digital cameras and the ubiquity of camera-enabled cell phones have provided the click-happy masses with an unprecedented capability to generate visual content on a massive scale. How have these disruptive innovations changed the medium of photography and its relationship to other visual disciplines? How has this onslaught of imagery changed the way we present our photographs and the way we manage them?
To me, it’s clear that a paradigm shift is in progress concerning how people relate to the growing volume of photographic images that they can so effortlessly create. Specifically, I think the need to process this avalanche of information is driving prolific shooters like myself to explore options for relating to images en masse, for defining them by their identity as part of a group rather than individually. As just one of the legions of individuals responding to these trends by simply following instinct and utilizing available tools and technologies, I have crafted my own technique for managing this maelstrom of multiplicity. My approach – naturally informed by my artistic history but nonetheless framed by these overriding cultural trends – has been to deemphasize the individual image, mine it for compelling content and then incorporate the resulting derivative into a photographic flash-mob, a painterly assemblage, snapshots aspiring to become brushstrokes.
As a process enthusiast, I’m particularly excited by the evolutionary potential of this work, the opportunity to incorporate the foundational tenets of Universal Darwinism – variation, selection and heredity – into the artistic process. Embracing the principles of memetics – the cultural analogue to genetics – I create complex image inheritance scenarios (copies of images), apply targeted mutations to highlight desirable attributes (image edits) and enforce rigorous selection pressures (ranking and rating) in a survival-of-the-fittest workflow that ultimately determines which images get included in the finished artifact and which are unceremoniously cast aside. In this context, my composite images can be viewed as unique, highly evolved organisms, subject to the same evolutionary forces as biological entities but free of the time constraints of vertical inheritance and driven by the decisive sensibilities of the artist rather than the seemingly random vagaries of natural selection.
Thomas Athey, 2017
Artist's CV can be found here.