I was asked recently what I thought of the current state of Photography. I responded with a question of my own…In what terms? “Oh you know…imaging and all the do it yourself stuff out there…”
I reminded my questioner that Photography has always been a “do it yourself process” from the very beginning the do it yourself guys usually brought out the best in the medium and challenged everyone else to catch up. I asked them what they thought was so wrong with that? The response set me back a bit but here it is…”Well with everyone able to adjust and manipulate the images and with the software getting so good…pretty soon guys like you are going to have very little to do.”
Wow, just like that…25 plus years of Photography, Darkroom, Digital and Teaching reduced to “very little to do…” I guess I was annoyed at first but then I took it as a challenge that I wanted to assure myself that someone who understood “taking a picture” really did not understand all the other parts that made up getting that image polished enough for someone to put down hard earned money for it.
Now I’m not an expert on all of the things that are possible…no one is and I would venture to guess that being in the middle of the United States gives me a very narrow view of the whole argument. That being said the challenge was put down so here it is…
I think that the “State of Photography” is at its heart the same as it was when I first started. There was a hardware war…Nikon vs. Minolta vs Hasselblad vs. Canon vs Bronica etc., there was a chemistry war…CibaChrome vs. Kodak vs. Ilford, there was even a lighting war…Sinar vs Norman etc. Through all of that it always came down to the person using the tools. You could take the best equipment, the best lighting, and the best chemistry (in your opinion) and using a mediocre process and technique you could still make really bad images.
So, what’s so different today? Well nothing really, you have a whole bunch more people being able to take images with better quality equipment and processing them on faster and faster computers, but really how many monkeys does it take to reproduce the entire works of Ansel Adams? I think quite a few thousand might not even get the first image off the drawing board.
If we listen to the “camera people” everyone is already way past that level of skill and you need only point your lens at something and Poof! Instant processed masterpiece. Or should we listen to the computer people? No matter the exposure, no matter the focus we can help you process your way out of the problem and with a few more mouse clicks…Poof! You have created an instantly reprocessed masterpiece.
Personally, I have a different viewpoint. I choose education. It is the hardest thing in my opinion, to admit that you do not know what the heck you are doing when you pick up a camera or grab the mouse and start clicking. It is nearly impossible to face the truth of the matter, that I need more information in order to make better choices and create better images. That asking questions makes me stronger and more agile, more able to compete for the dollars that are getting harder and harder to pull out of the photography business. So where do I find my education? There are schools, there are websites and groups, there are even YouTube videos…but it is more than just looking, reading and listening. I have to put these ideas to the test. I have to go out and shoot photographs and take them somewhere that I can see but might not always be able to achieve. It is in these successes and failings that I learn something new and interesting.
So there it is…My answer to the “State of Photography” question is that education and a personal quest for knowledge is where photographers need to go for more income. It is a course we all need to be on to get better at our art and our craft, one we will need to survive this race to the bottom that has been created by the big companies that want to make quality imaging automatic and accessible. It’s never automatic and for most it might be accessible but only after learning how.