How will our current world be viewed in the future?

April 12, 2007

by Marysa Dowling, photographic artist and artist educator

I wonder how our new found means and ability to self-represent in so many different and accessible ways will change our view of the past in years to come. How will our current world be viewed in the future? Will this revolution of digital representation help to give a more real and honest view of out times, leading to our current values, fears and hopes being fully understood in the future? Or will the opposite happen? Will people look below the surface of what exists to find out why it exists and how?

This leads onto a fear I’ve had since digital photography has been widely adopted, that the only pieces of our history left will be the aspects we have constructed and want to show, everything else is constantly being deleted along the way. There won’t be any mistakes. We won’t be able to go to a car boot sale and find piles of slides or negatives of someone else’s family history. Although, as we know, official histories and family albums are carefully constructed and chosen to fit in with our own contemporary motivations.

How much of this digital imagery will exist if it’s not being reproduced and printed? Perhaps it is an irrational fear, since such a great number of images exists nowadays.


These images are from a recent project with the Chisenhale Gallery, London. The young people involved worked closely with me to develop film and photographically based works around communication. We looked at visual communication in all its forms.


The posters were designed to question but also communicate something about these young adults desiring to have more control of their representation as ‘young people’, which is so often negative. They are highly visually literate due to the current saturation of images they are surrounded by and their constant engagement with technology. This enabled them to ask questions about their own thoughts, fears and desires but also about visual representation and how they are viewed. These posters were part of an intervention event in which the local community was asked to respond to the questions posed by the participants.


Perhaps you would like to respond as a way to extend the intervention.

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  1. You raise some interesting points. I also wonder how world history, alongside individual or personal histories, will appear in the future. Is there such a thing as a global photo history book, as opposed to the more personalised flickr or myspace sites?

    I’m sure many would say that all history is ‘constructed’ to a great extent. And that access to digital technology, and the means of disseminating information quickly and ‘globally’ only ensures that more histories are made available, uncensored and, even, unedited. And I think this is more the crux of the matter – that not only can material be fabricated (if we are searching for some kind of ‘truth’, that is), but that authorship can also be lost to the digital ether. So the accountablity – of an individual publisher, writer, photographer – can fall by the wayside, should this be desired.

  2. I get a very different take on what you ponder about with regard to the future of digital technologies and all those histories you make reference to.

    First, it serves us little that in the analog era “things” existed in garages or where ever you want to place them, if we did not have access to them, nor did we know how to find them. Let those romatinc notions of “discovering” family albums on the side. You will be able to find the equivalent to such albums over the internet, in larger numbers than you will have time in yor life time to deal with it all.

    Second, if there is one thing that I can assure you is that the archives of photographers or in collections, etc. are all under severe control, of one kind or another. However, in the digigtal era, you will be able to have access to an entire archive with no editing at all. This has never been done before to this extent. If you have a valid reason to do so, you can try me on for size, if you go to pedromeyer.com, and you will be able to find every single image I have ever shot in my life time. More than 300.000 images. Plus another 100,000 documents when it is all completed next year.

  3. ‘How much of this digital imagery will exist if it’s not being reproduced and printed?’ We have to rely on the technology to keep the imagery alive. There is less involved in old fashioned photography, and many people seem prepared to accept dreadful inkjet prints that will fade VERY quickly, though there are now many efficent websites offering photographic prints. Will I be able to find those odd discarded images in the furure? I don’t keep my impefect digital imagery and I certainly don’t print it out. There is a huge amount of photographic imagery out and about, but I do think it lacks printing quality when it is not on screen. But even more people are behind a gadget rather than experiencing the actual event, I know how I felt after emerging from behind my (not digital) camera after the stroke of midnight as we stepped into 2000, and it’s even easier now to be behind the camera/phone. We can prove we were there, that we had the experience because we have the image..even a blurry pixelated non printable one will do. Come sit with me and watch the sunset, and out of the corner of your eye you will see many people(tourists)walk to the water’s edge take a picture, look at the picture, take another if it is not quite right, check it, then walk away. I know that many (some?) of us can share small stories from around the world, but are we losing out on our own experience? Does the picture tell the truth?

  4. Perhaps implicit in Marysa’s self-confessed `irrational fear’ of the disappearance of ubiquitous digital images, which are increasingly `not being reproduced and printed’ in material forms is an artist’s question of what happens to the tactile and the concrete in the digital age. Consequently, what might the value of the art object be? Might such concerns also underlie the current nostalgia for Polaroid photography or analogue forms of photography from another era, as well as the revalidation of vernacular photography in academic, critical, and gallery spaces? Might they also underlie the rocketing prices of vintage and fine art photography prints at auction?

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