Bill Henson’s digital Pictorialism

I was intrigued when I noticed at the National Gallery of Victoria that  each landscape-oriented image in Bill Henson’s latest installation of pigment prints from digital scanned negatives had the same slightly rough edge around the black border. Was this a digital simulation of the effect you would get at the edge of a negative printed from an optical enlarger? And since each rough  edge was exactly identical, as is visible even in the online selection, was this a single film-edge stock-file composited on top of the different digital scans? This automatic visual affectation simulating an optical print in a bit mapped print-space is pure Digital Pictorialism, as assuredly as overly desaturated, or overly saturated, or overly healed Photoshop images are. They are all either technologically skeuomorphic or aesthetically nostalgic. These added-on edges are beginning to make Henson’s iconography look not only familiar, but also rote.

The edge of a Henson digital pigment print

Henson print, skeuomorphic edge? (mobile phone bit out of focus)

Different Henson print, same edge

One thought on “Bill Henson’s digital Pictorialism

  1. I have noticed a trend to print/present with messy borders and other signifiers of analogue photography, both in digital and in the alternative processes groups. This is also practiced by digital photographers simulating an old world aesthetic. Personally, I don’t subscribe to this practice as I see it as a falseness in digital and unnecessary in analogue. If done in digital then every border should be unique otherwise it misses the point of analogue’s uniqueness. If shown in analogue then it just seems to be ‘adding legs to a snake’ – the analogue image is already analogue and enjoys all its inherent qualities without having to also sign as analogue. To me, a messy border yells out ‘look at me, I’m analogue’ and this detracts from the image being presented which creates a confusion over the primary communication intended (the image or the process).

    Perhaps in Henson’s work he is reacting to a concern about the use of a digital process in the presentation of his analogue photographs.


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