Digital Image

by Julia Keiser (translated into English by Rebekka Eick)



The digital image is an image that is based on data and information. It is produced by digital technologies and exists in a computer, grounded upon binary codes. This way it can be edited easily.

There is no official alternative term for the digital image. However, the media scientist Ralf Adelmann also used the term “Datenbild” (data image).



The word “digital” originates from the Latin word “digitus”, which can be translated as “finger”. The derived word “digitalis” signifies “belonging to the finger”. This means, that it is possible to count with one finger and to calculate with many. The english term “digit” originates here, too. In the end of the 15thcentury, the expression “digital” came into being and in the end of the 20th century it was transmitted into the German language. Since the end of the 20th century, the term “digital” has its peak as it is used more often than ever in the context of digitalization. In computer science, “digital” stands for coding and processing information and resulting discrete data.

The term “Bild” (“image”) originally arose in Middle High German. “Bilde”, meaning “figure” or “shape” developed to “bilidi” in Old High German, which can be translated to “reflection” (“Abbild”). It’s origin is unknown, but it is suspected that it has it’s roots in the Germanic term “bil” (“appropriate shape”).


Content and classification

In general, the digital image can be classified into several scientific disciplines, such as the natural sciences or medicine. For each individual, this depends on what it is used for. In all cases it appears in the form of a binary code. However, the digital image has a particularly important meaning for art history, since it represents a “pictorial phenomenon”. Digitization caused the number and type of information and the speed at which it is distributed to change. This applies to the digital image, too. Comparing the digital image to the analogue image, the latter isn’t built by information that is invisible to the human eye. That is why art historian Claus Pias also sparked a discussion about whether the digital image really exists. In his opinion is doesn’t, since what we actually see on screen are analogue pictures, while what is digital about them is just their code. For him, this type of appearance doesnot lead to the term “digital image”, since one cannot see a bit either. Another difference to the analogue is the possibility to process the image. It can be changed, falsified and optimized in such a way that false properties become credible. Furthermore, there are fewer defects in the (multiple) modification of the images and if you save them correctly, the original file can also be retained. With analogue images, there is a high probability that their quality will worsen due to frequent copying.



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