Chartres Cathedralís unique and most recognizable characteristics are its two architecturally distinct towers, one Gothic, the other Romanesque; their construction separated by 400 years. They are also the most memorable aspects of the cathedral; the two towers are the visual equivalent of the entire edifice. Yet among virtually all who have studied or visited Chartres, few could state with authority whether the Gothic spire is on the left or the right. A reconfigured photograph in which the towers are reversed is not a photograph of Chartres, yet remains a photograph of the idea of Chartres. It is simultaneously Chartres and not-Chartres.
The assumptions of what we think we know/recognize are based on memories of the most significant details; a compression of the entire image into a few relevant elements.
Software is today's magic wand, allowing all of us to become wizards; a palm tree from one photograph, the sky from another, the beach from another, the model etc.; Aruba reduced to an fictional representation, a clichéd pastiche.
Even in its purest form, a photograph only informs us about an object, event or experience; a shared and accepted understanding of the world in which we live, an approximation, depending on a collective assumption about the nature of a reality that is neither absolute nor permanent.
What is a photograph? Instead of retouching all of the scratches and dust marks on a photograph, one could choose to retouch everything but the scratches and dust marks; the result would be no less a photograph.
The only absolute authority a photograph has, is to inform us about itself; i.e. that it is indeed a photograph.
An image of the molecular structure of a child's brain is no less an accurate portrait of the child than the schoolís yearbook snapshot.
A photograph can be any size, a pixel, a galaxy.
Both the brain and the computer can reassemble, reconfigure and alter data, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes so completely that when it is re-presented in either hard or soft form, it no longer resembles a recognizable object.
A negative, a photograph, a digital file is, along with the rest of the world, data in transition.
In looking at a photograph, how many pixels can be removed or altered before the familiar becomes the unrecognizable? At what point does a photograph cease to be?