East Stroudsburg University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 483-490
ISBN: 978-84-614-2439-9
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 3rd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 15-17 November, 2010
Location: Madrid, Spain
The digital sublime refers to digital-composite photography that presents “the existence of something unpresentable,” and that renders a matchless look—a sophisticated fabrication, a perfect and clean aesthetic, a maximum color saturation, a multiple-point perspective, and stunning or new-fangled content. However, artists who create the digital sublime do not only deliver impressive technological effects for shock value, but also, and perhaps more importantly, capitalize on its ability to express their particular messages.
In order to understand an artist’s important message beneath his/her digital fantasies, I propose that we investigate the artist’s views of reality (Alston, 2006) by asking, “What is your definition of reality?” and “How do you visualize your reality in digital composite?” This paper cites the photographic project The Dodo and Mauritius Island: Imaginary Encounters by contemporary photographer Harri Kallio of New York City as an example of how understanding an artist’s views of reality helps viewers identify suitable theories to explicate their work.

Kallio explored the mysterious history of dodos, which became extinct in the seventeenth century, to arouse concern for the hierarchical relationship between humans and other species. He first sculpted two dodos based on two sources of information: actual fragmented dodo fossils, and the artistic image of a dodo in Alice in Wonderland. He then brought his two dodo sculptures to Mauritius Island, the only habitat of dodos before their extinction, and imaginably recreated moments in photographs, where dodos were frolicking and running about in their homeland three hundred years ago. Lastly, Kallio used computers to seamlessly multiply dodos in his photographs.
When asked about his definition of reality, Kallio offers two layers: first, the objective sensory experiences from the world; and second, his subjective interpretation of these sensory experiences. These two distinct categories of reality, one from the external world and the other from his mind, not only simultaneously determine the appearance of Kallio’s dodo sculptures, but also suggest three theories that elucidate his work: namely realism, romanticism, and cognitivism.
Kallio first relies on scientific information (dodo fossils) to reconstruct dodos as accurately as possible. Such objective data from the world provides a realist approach. His second and major criterion however, is to make his sculpture of the dodo as recognizable as the one in Alice in Wonderland. This suggests his subjective interpretation at work, which is also manifested in his romanticist longing as a Western man for the enigmatic dodos living in a mysterious Eastern island. Lastly, Kallio makes a cognitivist contribution to viewers’ contemplation of extinct species.

Investigating digital photographers’ views of reality helps us probe the philosophical anchors underneath the technological fantasies. Students of photography need to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the digital sublime before selecting it as the medium for expressing their ideas. In order to appreciate and teach about digital-composite photographs, photographic educators need to be aware that the digital sublime may address a variety of theories, which may encompass modernism and postmodernism, so as to incorporate pedagogies that address both the appreciation of fine arts and the critique of visual culture in classrooms.
Digital photography, reality, aesthetics.