We live in exciting times. Fast paced is a misnomer, our pace of life in the 21st century is more “lightning speed”, why walk when you can fly?
“The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”
This was said by the American writer Elbert Hubbard, and the amazing thing is that it was said over a hundred years ago. (Hubbard lived from 1856-1915). http://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Elbert_Hubbard
Hubbard observed this in humanity in the years before television became a household item, decades before the Space Race, a century before the iPhone was born. Now that really puts a perspective on things. We live in exponential times, whirling ever faster into some unknown vortex…if Hubbard found his times fast, he would be gobsmacked at the rate things change and evolve in this century.
The second half of Hubbard’s quote is equally relevant. Someone in the 1960s (the days of mainframe computers) would have pooh-poohed the idea that someday computers would be so small that they would fit in the palm of your hand. But it happened, and sooner than one would imagine. And someday very soon, computers would simply be chips implanted in our brains…the technology is already out there.
The same thing that happened to computers has happened with Photography. As an emerging artform, Photography was embraced by many, and as more and more enthusiasts pushed the envelope, it created a demand for the technology to improve and develop. In other words, it evolved, feeding itself and on itself like an ouroboros. And it didn’t do this slowly, either. As the technology evolved, cameras evolved too, from bulky, heavy set-ups, to smaller, handheld ones like the Brownie, to the Polaroid camera with its instant film, to the disposable camera, high end DSLRs, mirrorless technology, and the smartphone camera.
Similarly, but along different lines, the telephone evolved from being a boxlike contraption on the wall, where to make a call you had to go through an operator or interchange, to the smaller household telephone, to the first mobile “bricks”, and now to an entire gamut of smartphones. Phones used to be a necessity for some, now they are status symbols.
Where the two technologies converge is in the marriage of camera to telephone. Some genius decided not too long ago, that, as both the camera and mobile phone were handheld objects, why not integrate the two? And so the Smartphone wars now include specifications for their built-in camera capabilities. Throw into the mix the new genre of photo editing Apps, and there you have it – mobile photography.
A recent article in the news asked the question:
The death of photography: are camera phones destroying an artform
The article debates the democratization of traditional photography. This is a salient question, and I’ve often wondered about the subject of democratization…with all the advances in technology and communication, and with everything being so easily accessible in the modern world, it’s apparent that these days EVERYONE is an artist, writer, poet, photographer, musician, film maker, chef, computer scientist. Hell, if you wanted to, you could even be more than one of the above, and/or all of the above. Of course, Universities still offer qualifications to students, as they are a benchmark for achieving a certain standard in a given subject. Most learning however is done online these days, and most information is readily available, so if I took it into my head to be a doctor (substitute your preferred profession here), I could technically do all my academic learning through searching keywords on Google, and my practical learning through YouTube videos or software simulators. Whether or not I’d be any good as a doctor, is another matter.
So, to go back to the question of is photography dead? No, I don’t believe it is, it’s simply evolved beyond what we know and are familiar with. It’s split from the “traditional” norm into several branches – DSLRs for the “serious” photographer, high end cameras (because everyone needs a Ferrari/Porsche/Lamborghini etc of cameras, right) and smartphone cameras for the “avant garde” movement, which includes mobile photography artists. Disposable cameras have largely been relegated to special events like weddings where the guests can take home their own captured memories of the event, or share them with the newlyweds. 35mm film photography, which not too long ago used to be the norm, is now viewed like some quaint throwback novelty, the same way we would view Polaroid cameras or Twin Reflex cameras.
Of course, there will be detractors who will deny that camera phones can be anything other than gimmicks, a passing phase, sub-par photographic devices for Joe Bloggs in High Street. I guess these “serious professionals” have to justify their continued existence in a constantly changing world. On the other hand, there are those “traditional” photographers who have happily embraced the camera phone and use it alongside or even instead of their DSLRs professionally. There’s talk that the resolution of images coming from a mobile phone’s camera can never be as high as that of a DSLR. Tell that to the likes of the Nokia Lumia 1020 which boasts 41MP. For the more “standard” camera phones, the saying “There’s an App for that” goes, or, when there isn’t an App for that, there are proprietary software programmes previously meant for traditional photography that a mobile photographer can tap into. As Hubbard said “The man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it”.
Even print shops are evolving from being the place to send your film rolls to, and get your negatives back from. (What’s a negative?!) These days, you can print your own photos using a machine in the Technology section of stores, and they can be ready in just minutes. And you don’t have to print the whole roll, you can simply self-select the ones you want printed. What’s more, you don’t even have to go to a shop to print your photos anymore, just kick back with a cuppa and let your home printer do it for you! Print shops are wiseing up to this loss of business, so now they are reinventing themselves as large format printers, specialist printers, picture framing shops, print-your-images-on-unusual-substrates-such-as-aluminium specialists, photography galleries, photographic artist event venues etc. Adapt, or die.
When photography went digital, the film roll largely went out the window. Now, that was a big change for photography, and even though that evolution had its detractors in die-hard traditionalists who insisted that the only “proper” way to be a photographer was to have your own darkroom and develop your own prints, But Time passes, and views change. Or, if they didn’t, their voices became fainter and fainter. On the plus side, “traditional” film photography is now viewed as an artform, and some photographers make a living out of it. The rest are charging down the digital highway.
The second part of the question raised by the article is: are camera phones destroying an art form? I say no, they are not. Camera phones are merely the next stage in the evolution of photography, creating a whole new genre, that of “mobile photography art”, which now blurs the lines between conventional Photography and Art. As mobile phones get ever more sophisticated, so do their built-in cameras, which in turn creates a new generation of artists with their own demands on photo editing and Art Apps, which App Developers are happy to indulge. Artists are incorporating photography into their work, and Photographers are incorporating Art into their images – actually, this has been going on for a long time and is now old news. Granted there are now billions of mobile phones in circulation, and by default, billions of camera phones in use, so it is that there are billions of photographers amongst us.
Yes, to preserve the high standards of Photography and ensure it survives democratisation, there is a need to sort out the wheat from the chaff. This undoubtedly is an Herculean task, but thankfully billions of people are quite content with just sharing their holiday snaps with their social circles and moving on. For those who collect Art, fear not, there are thousands of online galleries and bricks-and-mortar galleries that curate Photography in its various guises, and show you only what they consider the best, so you can choose to be surrounded only by beautiful images. Yes, there is a lot of babble out there, but that’s why we have sites like Flipboard, where you choose what you want to read or see, and social networking sites like Facebook etc, where you choose whose feed you can see and who can see your feed. Without such filters, you would go into information overload for sure!
When I first picked up the iPhone and found out there was such a thing as “iPhoneography”, I was overjoyed. It meant I wasn’t the only nutter out there turning my images into something other than what my iPhone’s camera had captured. I then discovered communities of “iPhoneographers” online, all seemingly having sprung up overnight. Then I got my Samsung Galaxy S3 (now S4), and although there aren’t as many “Androidographers” out there, it doesn’t bother me, as 1) I am not a purist and I love both iOS and Android systems and will use both happily, and 2) things keep evolving so I like to think of the whole genre as simply “mobile photography art”. My own work includes elements of graphic design, so I my strapline reads “Mobile Photography Art & Design”. That too, might change, depending on where my creativity goes next.
So no, photography is most definitely not dead, it has not been killed by the camera phone, it has evolved and is still evolving. What has changed is people’s perception of what constitutes photography. In my next post, I’m going to turn this thing on its head, anyway, and surprise you with something else altogether!
Please note that these are merely my own observations and opinions and you are not obliged to agree with them if you feel strongly against them. :-)