If what we read on the internet is to be believed (and who doesn’t believe everything they read on the Internet?) film is definitely not dead. But for a debate which has been raging for well over a decade, I can’t help but wonder whether the wrong question is being posed. Is it not photography itself, rather than film, which has been dying a slow death in front of our very eyes?
As a professional photographer, making a living from the photographs I capture, I have a vested interest in the healthy continuation of the industry. And so, by way of a perfect procrastination tool to avoid editing the backlog of photographs I have accumulated, I decided to try and argue both sides of this (not so) hotly debate and see if I could find the answer.
Photography is absolutely dead, technology killed it.
Photography died the moment a camera lens found it's way onto a cell phone, and overnight everyone in the entire world became a photographer.
For over a hundred years, photography provided a creative outlet for generations of artists to capture the heights of human achievement and the depths of human depravity; the wonders of the natural world and the tragedy of global decay. Photographers were the visual story tellers of the 20th Century. But in the 21st century, photography as an art form has been diluted to the point of almost complete mediocracy. Today, visual art seems to extend no further than applying a filter to yet another “selfie”, shared on whichever social platform has achieved critical mass on the day (only to be replaced tomorrow).
In many ways, this decline began with the onset of digital photography. The rapid advancement of technology allowed anyone, with even the most basic entry-level digital camera, to achieve results previously the exclusive preserve of the professional photographer, simply by switching their camera to automatic mode. Where before, a correctly exposed image required technical knowledge, photographic skill and creative vision in equal measure, today onboard computers have assumed responsibility for exposing 99% of all photographs captured in the digital age.
That photography has largely been reduced to the art of point-and-shoot is evidenced by the demise of the photojournalist. Where once dedicated and skilled photographers would tell the story of world events, through the photographs they captured, today many newspapers around the world have laid off their entire team of staff photographers. Citizen Journalists (aka readers encouraged to submit their photographs for free) have taken their place. Decades of photojournalistic tradition reduced to something anyone with a cell phone can do. Henri Cartier-Bresson must be turning in his grave at the thought of what we have done to his noble art.
Photography may have enjoyed a proud heritage throughout the 20th century, but now photography is dead, and it was technology that killed it.
Dead? No way. If anything, the golden age of photography has only just begun.
Of course photography isn’t dead. If anything what we are witnessing is just the start of a grand revival of the art. Technology has put a camera, of one description or another, into the hands of more people than ever. The collective output of which has seen an explosion of creativity, the likes of which we have never experienced before. Every day people from all walks of life are creating incredible images, documenting the world around them in every conceivable way.
Of course there are millions of photographs being created, and shared online every day, which could be viewed as mundane and uninspiring. But hasn’t that always been the case? The creative elite of every generation of has always, by definition, sat ahead of the masses who followed. The difference is now the sheer number of photographers who make up those masses are driving the new elite to ever higher levels of creativity, forcing them to be better. Surely we all benefit as a result?
Moreover, it has never been a better time to become a photographer. The Internet has proved itself the greatest learning tool ever. The wealth of video guides, tutorials, and other photography education available online is staggering, allowing people who might otherwise never had the time or opportunity to become photographers, to learn at their own pace. Any barriers to entry into the world of photography, which may previously have existed, have now all but completely been obliterated, thanks to technology.
I can’t help but wonder whether some of the doom and gloom talk on the future of photography is actually fuelled more by the fear of change than the reality of the art form. Without question photography is changing and we are all having to adapt as a result. But not every photographer wants to adapt. Many are content to remain strictly within their comfort zone, the warm fluffy place where they feel safe and in control. That might mean never straying too far from a particular style or genre, or maintaining a narrow-minded view on what photography is, refusing to accept a camera-phone as valid for photography purposes. But as photographers, should’t we constantly be challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zone? To try new things and extend our range?
In my time, I have seen many completely uninspiring, repetitive images produced by photographers claiming 50 years of professional experience, and I have seen mind-blowing creativity from 15 years olds with nothing more than an Instagram account and sense of flair. As a creative art, photography has always had far more to do with the person behind the lens than the equipment they are using. This is as valid now as it has every been.
Photography isn’t dead, the fun is only just starting, and I am pretty sure if Henri Cartier-Bresson were here today, he would be shooting with a camera-phone!
The Jury’s Decision.
So there you have it, my thoughts on this (hypothetically) great photographic debate. In truth, I am not sure how successfully I have argued both sides of the debate, as I actually believe we have never had it so good. The ease of travel, the availability of cameras, the opportunity to reach a global audience thanks to the Internet, all of these have contributed, in my opinion, to this being one of the most exciting times in history to be a photographer.
But those are just my thoughts. What about yours? Is photography alive and kicking, or dying on it’s feet?