Photographic retouching begins with a problem: a photograph has imperfections, technical flaws, objects or details we’d rather it not represent. Like editing a piece of writing, the post-production of a photograph is a process of subtraction, reduction, or overwriting. Raphael Rubinstein, in a reflection on his time as editor of Art in America, relates that at the end of a rigorous editorial process, a text would sometimes consist of more of his original writing than the author’s: “[The editors] occasionally remarked to one other that it would make more sense, and cost the magazine much less, if we simply wrote the contents of every issue ourselves. Is it the dream of every editor to do away with writers altogether?”
To simulate a photograph is to live out the editor’s dream. Unlike a photograph, the simulated photograph—a representation of specific objects and an environment that do not as yet exist physically; a displacement of photography, which applies an image as a texture to a concept—begins without problems. Without the photographic subject’s stubborn materiality to contend with, a simulated photograph is accountable only to the image-generative technology by which it is brought into being.
A series of Kolbo’s simulated photographs are on display in A Simulated Future amid Collapse. The high-contrast black-on-white prints hold, paradoxically, cues of both analog and digital genesis, though in fact that which would traditionally evidence an analog production has, in this case, just very effectively been sublimated into a digital one. It’s difficult to imagine that these images are trying to convince us either of their authenticity or their inauthenticity, perhaps because in 2015 other considerations are more pressing than this distinction.
These considerations—the political operations of the simulated photograph, its relationship to power and violence—are the purview of an essay Kolbo has published in tandem with this exhibition. In it, he writes that “it is critical to unpack [the simulated photograph’s] relation to post-industrial production and illustrate its primary functions as they relate to a larger and more complex network of processes and concepts, which have the potential to obscure or abstract the physical externalities of capitalist consumption through idealist virtual worlds.” Kolbo’s images both exemplify and contextualize the kind of production his text gives treatment to. In considering the simulated photograph, he writes that it is “equal parts a relic of a now past industrial society and the basis of a new form of communication justifying a new era of post-industrial extraction.”