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The Virtual Materiality of a Digital Image. Developing the contemporary editing techniques of digital photography by using the virtual materiality of an image

The research suggests the perspective of looking at a digital photographic image as a virtual object, and not just an image. Based on this viewpoint, this research experiments with and devises a photograph-editing technique. It is a method that transforms the virtual materiality of photographic images to create digitalized visual qualities and transform photographic images.

Recently, I have encountered plenty of images every day on the Internet and in social media that have a feel of digitalized aesthetics or context. These images have unrealistic and artificial visual qualities that mainly seemed to have been created by 3D graphics, plus some others, such as photographic images and videos. I felt that these images were closely related to the state of today’s digitalized living environment, the implicit influence of technology on the future of our society and the technology itself, both of which accelerate so incredibly fast. Moreover, I intuitively thought that the importance of such images would increase and they would be needed more over time. As a designer who uses the means of photography, I tried to find a unique way to approach the contemporary image realm using the tools of photography.

In the context of this research, I developed a method to provide a digital photograph with a virtual materiality and then, in turn, transform this virtual materiality to create digitalized visual effects and, consequently, transform the actual medium of a digital photograph. On a practical level, the method consists in connecting 3D graphic tools and the photographic image in a unique way. In short, it is to bring the photographic image into the virtual space made by a 3D graphic tool. By this, the photographic image turns into a virtual object with a virtual body. The next step consisted in transforming the photograph the way 3D tools transform 3D objects and finally render the transformed photographic image into the form of a 3D digital photograph.

In the practical part of the thesis, I experimented with this method in two different settings. Firstly, the method broadly tests the basic deformation of the materiality by the 3D tool into different types of photographic images such as portrait and landscape photographs. Secondly, the method is applied to an actual project that deals with the content of contemporary fashion, which is currently the most relevant content for this method.

Essentially, this method “includes” the photographic image much more into the digital world. By being visually placed in a virtual 3D space, a photograph then acquires a virtual body and turns into a virtual object.
Visually, the two different visual qualities – a photographic image and the visuals of 3D graphics – overlap and create hybrid and unique visual qualities. In addition, the unrealistic deformation and materiality that the 3D graphics can create provides abundant possibilities to transform photographs into something that could not be made in the actual world.
Basel, 2019