Realism and the Future of the Moving Image

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Session Title:

  • Imaging Capabilities of the Future

Presentation Title:

  • Realism and the Future of the Moving Image

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Abstract:

  • Panel: Imaging Capabilities of the Future

    Ever increasing, spectatorially overwhelming rates of resolution have, since Russell Kirsch’s early experiments with digital image scanning in 1957, been associated with the exponential capacities of computer culture. But apocryphal (and likely exaggerated) accounts of pilgrims fainting at the sight of Giotto’s angels in Assisi suggest that the relationship between the realist image and the overwhelmed audience has a long and colourful history. In the twentieth century, cultural narratives surrounding ‘overwhelming’ experiences of highly realistic cinematic images performed the promotional role of attracting news media attention and free publicity for the emergent medium. By mid-century the advertising industry had recognised the relationship between richly detailed imaging and viewer attention, with the result that it drove production values in neighbouring film and television sectors. This presentation will not only ask to what extent historical precedents bear relevance to our understanding of the contemporary context; more importantly, it will ask what the future holds for high resolution imaging and discourses of realism. As movie and visual effects production companies enter a frame rate and resolution arms race, games companies assert that the longed for visual event horizon of photorealistic resolution in real-time games will soon be upon us. The question here is not “what will happen when games achieve the visual veracity of the cinematic image?” Rather, it is that “given the history of realism in imaging, will the point of optimal ‘realism’ ever be reached?” From such a perspective the resolution, colour gamut, contrast ratios of emergent screen technologies bear similarities to the Dutch development of oil and canvas technology in the 16th century. Unlike past iterations of this techno-cultural nexus, screen technologies now under development are in the process of passing the limits of human perception. When this happens, what becomes of the notion of realism?

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