A Qualitative Study on Changed Production Conditions and Methods of Filmmakers, Press-Photographers and Architects in Austria
Client: FWF (Austrian Science Fund)
Project director: Alfred Smudits
Implementation: Regina Sperlich
Project duration: August 2005 – March 2008
The influence of digital mediamorphose has radically changed the entire field of cultural production. This project analyzes the transformations in three fields shaped intensely by technology: film, photography, and architecture.
In the style of previous mediacult studies on mediamorphoses in the field of music, three technology-driven segments of cultural creation will be subjected to an investigation into the changes caused by the digital mediamorphosis. Beyond this, the theory and methodology of mediamorphoses in the field of cultural creation are to be further developed. Consequently, the main point of reference in this research project is the theory of the mediamorphoses of cultural creation, which addresses primarily socio-cultural, technological, economic, legal and labour market-related aspects of production, distribution and consumption.
The key argument is that the digital metamorphosis has triggered a radical transformation process in the entire field of cultural production – whose extent is comparable to the changes that took place in the early 20th century. This transformation has entailed changes in the professional status, the role and self-perception of cultural workers as well as in the modes of distribution of cultural goods and services.
On the basis of this theory and of the current status of research – a basis which, in the field of music, has mainly been established by mediacult – the concept of mediamorphosis will be evaluated through research in three fields (film & video, photography, architecture). Upon completion of the field research, the analytical dimensions defined at the beginning of the project will be evaluated and modified together with the general theory and methodology for the purposes of further research.
The main research questions addressed by this research project are:
– To what extent are cultural creation and production as well as their socio-economic conditions affected in a small country, like Austria, by the transformation engendered by the digital mediamorphosis?
– What has been the impact on the three fields of film&video, photography and architecture?
– What are the conclusions that can be drawn from the study of these three fields with regard to cultural creation at large?
– To what extent have the self-perception and professional status of cultural workers in the stated fields changed?
– Which conclusions can be drawFor the by the Austrian Research Fund financed project “Digital Mediamorphosis in Film, Photography and Architecture” (duration summer 2005 – summer 2008) problem-centered interviews with altogether 58 persons were conducted in 2006. All sub-fields of film, press-photography and architecture were considered, though the focus was on technologically centered fields, thus: (1) camera people, editors of film, video, soundtrack and special effects, owners of post-production studios, film producers and directors, as well as film funding staff; (2) press photographers and owners of press photograph agencies, and (3) architects and specialists who produce architectural renderings. The results of the analysis of the qualitative interviews show effects of digitalization on the cost structure, occupational image and occupational status, and production methods.
(1) Regarding cost structure and its impact on creative work, on the one hand, the cheapening and the increased usability of the means of digital production result in their improved availability, and, as a consequence, more autonomy for creative workers, as it has cleared the way for a rational universalism. This invented notion implies that a single person or enterprise completes several or all production stages alone instead of division of labor being necessary. As a result, newcomers and start-up businesses get easier access to the market, and, thus, the foundation of young companies is facilitated. On the other hand, in spite of the cheapening of digital equipment, additional costs have arisen, for example, because in state-of-the-art production the interval between the purchase of equipment and its obsolescence has been shortened. Besides, new costs for post-production arise because the cheapening of the shooting process (video and digital photography are usually cheaper than old style film material) leads to the production and the editing of much larger amounts of material.
(2) The changes in the occupational image and professional status engendered by digitalization provide a similarly ambivalent picture. On the one hand, assistant positions, such as assistant editor, are becoming obsolete or are devalued, since they can nowadays be performed by film editors themselves. On the other hand, new roles, such as sound designer and technical consultant, which support camera work, have come into being.
(3) The digital mediamorphosis has left its unmistakable mark on production methods, whose character has been changed primarily due to multiple options and openness, the unlimited processability and convertibility of products, the speeding up of production, and the miniaturization of the means of production. The increased flexibility, mobility, acceleration and globalization of work processes are not attributable to production technology alone, but in part also to the communication technologies, above all the Internet and the mobile phone. Both facilitate and push rational universalism, too.
Although opportunities for action and creativity increase, they may face physical, mental and economic limits at the individual level. The acceleration also encounters slowdown processes. As a consequence, the use of digital means of production demands even more self-discipline as well as flexibility at the level of the individual rather than the level of the company. This highlights the increasing individualization and autonomy of creative work, especially in terms of the rational universalism. Autonomous and flexible action becomes a more far-reaching social norm, representing a strategy to survive in insecure and accelerated markets, though it also goes partly hand in hand with the risk of precarious working conditions.
Regina Sperlich: Ambivalente Autonomie in der digitalen Mediamorphose. Eine qualitative Untersuchung über veränderte Produktionsbedingungen und -weisen von Filmschaffenden, PressefotografInnen und ArchitektInnen
in Österreich. Wien, September 2008. PDF
You can find an English summary in the last Newsletter 103 (June 2008), S. 1-2.