In cleaning out some irrelevant files from so many years ago, I found this article quite fascinating – the revolution of photography. I think you will too. Technology has jumped by leaps and bounds since 1997 when this article was written.

At this point, can you just imagine what is yet to come in our technological future? So what do you think, is the debate finally over–is it photography if it’s a digital image?

Is a digital photograph the same as a digital image – cybergraph? Just some thoughts to ponder….

Now, nearly 20 years later, the title of this article came so close to the name given to this art form.
Computer Generated Imagery (CGI).

© 1997 Dale O’Dell. All right reserved.


In the world of art, there exists a collection of terms and classifications which are used to define, include, exclude, characterize, designate, identify, pigeonhole and otherwise clarify or confuse art and its many flavors.

Photography is but one sub-category of artistic expression. Now, with the advent of the digital-imaging workstation within the studio and/or a photo-lab, photography seems to be witnessing a revolution.

Computer-generation and manipulation of photographic imagery has been around since the 1960’s. By the 1970’s a small market had developed for computer-generated imagery (CGI as it’s now known) despite equipment that was bulky, slow, astronomically expensive and available only to a few.

In the 1980’s the amount of computer-imagery grew tremendously as did the availability of good equipment at somewhat less than exorbitant prices. By 1985, in photographic circles, digital imaging was the in trend despite a limited and confused marketplace.

In the mid 1990’s, if you believed the popular and trade press, film may be dead, and if you’re a photographer without a digital-imaging workstation on your desk, you’re a dinosaur–archaic, outmoded and non-competitive. Is the digital revolution truly the evolution of photography? Or is it something else? Seems so – look how far we have come in such a short amount of time!

Apples Aren’t Oranges!

Most digital imagery is not photography. All art forms are branches of a single tree called “art,” and “cybergraphics”1 is a new limb growing from the branch called “photography.” Currently this is a point of great confusion.

Photographers have embraced cybergraphics as their own and, even though the majority of cyber-artists came to the medium from photography, sculptors, painters, illustrators and other artists have also embraced this new medium.

Artists who have come to cybergraphics from mediums other than photography have not really made a big deal of it. To them it’s just another medium.

It Does Look A Little Like A Duck…

Photographers, on the other hand, feel compelled to include cybergraphics as photography because the new medium shares some photographic characteristics. Those photographic characteristics are image-capture and image-realization, or to put it in more common terms, input and output.

In general terms, cybergraphic imagery is accomplished in three distinct steps: inputting of captured imagery to the computer, image-processing, and output. Input or digitization of imagery converts pictures (often from but not limited to photo images) into digital information recognizable by the computer.

The cyber-artist (photographer, painter or whoever) then uses the computer-tool to manipulate the imagery however s/he sees fit and, finally, the completed cybergraphic is output. Because the usual process is commonly accomplished in a photo-in, photo-out fashion, photographers think it is photography. It is not.

Cybergraphics cannot be construed as photography any more than painting or illustration can. You’re probably thinking, “But I don’t construe painting as photography.” Of course you don’t. That’s because your major point of consideration is the middle part of the process, which is the part that should be considered.

But think about this: some painters and illustrators use photographic reference. They may photograph or avail themselves of photographic elements they use as a starting point for their paintings or illustrations. Often they “input” their photographic reference by actually tracing it onto their canvases or paper, or they may simply visually refer to it during the painting or drawing step.

Finally, especially in cases where the work is to be reproduced, the completed illustration or painting is often then photographed (output). The resulting images are often inserted into portfolios, used as marketing or advertising tools for the artist, or supplied to color-separators.

This, too, is an image-in, image-out process, yet photographers make no claim to it. What happens in the middle– the creative act between input and output–defines the (new) medium.

© 2009 Lindsay Adler. All rights reserved.

Original Photo

© 2009 Lindsay Adler. All rights reserved.

Montage Created in Photoshop

Check Out The Tools

All the different mediums of art can be defined by the processes and tools used to create the finished piece of artistic expression. Painters primarily interact with paint, brushes and canvas; musicians with sound and musical instruments; dancers with the body and motion; sculptors with clay, metals, etc.

Photographers primarily interact with digital cameras, lenses, and/or film cameras. If you’re interacting primarily with a computer to bring forth your art, you’re not a photographer. You’re something else–a cyberartist.

Process does determine the art form. In the 1960’s when the photomontage (not to be confused with a “collage” which is altogether different) was popularized, it was a new and non-realistic kind of photograph which caused critics to proclaim, “It isn’t photography!”

To them the photomontage was not photography because it was non-representational and not “straight.” They were mistaken. Those photomontage images were produced through the photographer’s interaction with the pure photographic process.

Those images may have been created (and still are) by non-traditional uses, but the majority (if not all) of the equipment and supplies used to make those images came from the camera shop. You may use a camera; you may be an accomplished photographer, but if a computer is required to make a specific image, then the result is not a photograph; it’s a cybergraph.

Re-Touching and Collages

Not included in cybergraphics is the simple retouching of photographs. Retouching is an accepted form of traditional image-enhancement and has been since the inception of the photographic medium. How much retouching is acceptable is still open to debate.

Even in the 1800’s, some heavily retouched and hand-tinted photographs were considered more art (painting) than photograph. Regardless, the spotting brush and retouching pencil predate the computer. Also not included in cybergraphics is the collage.

Although collages may include photographic elements and may be re-photographed, they are neither photographs nor cybergraphs because the imagery is constructed through cutting and pasting. This distinction shouldn’t be a point of confusion, anyway, since the collage is already an accepted, distinct art form in and of itself.

Cutting and pasting done with a computer is a cybergraph only if the end result could not be accomplished without the computer. Cinema and video are not included in cybergraphics, because they are not still images, and they are already recognized as separate art forms.

Other digital imaging technologies–such as the MRI, for example–are also not included, since they are not construed as art or self-expression. Maybe someday someone will make an MRI for purely aesthetic, self-expression reasons. Then it would be a cybergraph.

Now You See It…

What is considered to be a cybergraph is simple and fairly obvious. Any still image that owes its existence to digital generation or manipulation, that could not be realized in any other way without the use of a computer, is considered a cybergraph.

This includes computer-generated imagery and any other non-lens imagery which relies on software to exist. Cybergraphics is actually pretty straightforward for the viewer who considers process as a component of artistic expression. But, beware! You can be fooled! Things are not always as they seem.

© 2012 Jim Austin. All right reserved.

Jim Austin enjoys his artistic freedom when creating Crazy Faces such as this one in Photoshop.


“Nothing is as it seems” is a good maxim for the consideration of computer-manipulated imagery in this epoch of art, photography and technology. Reality, representation, expression and truth are at a crossroads due to technology.

Technology is an irresistible force which will not slow despite confusion, categorization, ethics, law, fear or anything else. Despite technology–or because of it–art will be made (because it can be) in any way, shape or form, with any tool. If this is confusing, don’t worry about it. Separations will all be sorted out eventually. That much is inevitable and absolute.

The human animal categorizes everything. It’s our nature. It’s how we understand things.

If art is a tree with many branches defining each distinct artistic medium, then we should welcome the new growth. Cybergraphics is a new branch. It may have budded from the branch of photography, but it is not photography. Once we understand that we’ve got something new here, cybergraphics will emerge as a fresh and distinct art form with its own beauty, pleasures and perils.

The silver image is not dead (it could even become more valuable). Photography is not headed for extinction; it has witnessed a birth.

1. There needs to be a name for this new art form, some word that describes it the way photography describes light-pictures. Cybergraphics sounds pretty catchy. Here are some other terms, choose what you like best or make up your own: digistration, pixography, pixelography, cyberpictography, digimagery………

Computer Generate Imagery
Who would have thought we would come so far!

by Dale O’Dell
Article: © 1997 Dale O’Dell. All right reserved.

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.