December 13, 2007

Would photography please “die” already??

Ah, the indestructable "Is Photography Dead" meme…

Oh, who gives a crap?  Sorry, let me explain.  I thought about noting this not-so-little trend some time ago, but I’ve never been able to invest much passion in it.  People have been manipulating photography in every which way–through their choice of what to capture & what to omit; through changes to the scene/subject (adding lights, building sets, moving bodies on a battlefield); and through tweaks to the captured results–since the dawn of the technology.  So what?  I think Bridge engineering manager Arno Gourdol hit the nail on the head:

Being aware of composition, balance, symmetry and "owning the frame" is the creative act. The creative act matters, and the moment at which it occurs seems secondary–whether it is when pressing the shutter release on your camera, when making a print in the darkroom or when sitting in front of a computer.  This echoes the early days when photography was viewed as an unfair and unworthy competitor to painting…

I dunno; much of this "is photography dead" discussion strikes me as sterile and pointless–and maybe a strawman that’s not worth beating up.  Yet I wonder whether it’s driven by veteran photogs feeling threatened–comercially and aesthetically–by so many affordable tools that make competent image-making so much more attainable. 

Sure, yeah, we can debate this camera or lens vs. that one all day long–but all this stuff absolutely rocks compared to what pros were using just a few years back (to say nothing of what Arbus, Capa, Cartier-Bresson, and co. had).  You can say that digital makes us lazy, and there’s some truth there; and yet it also fosters free experimentation & instant review of the results.  That quicker learning cycle, plus autofocus, good software, etc. helps get people "good enough" (technically, anyway) without years of slow and costly apprenticeship.  And when anyone can take a technically decent shot, then "good" becomes "trite," and people seek to define themselves by bucking the trend–making portfolios blurry or murky.

Therefore–and maybe I’ll live to regret writing this–we end up with a bunch of freaked-out oldsters (or just curmudgeons at heart) twisting up a Dick Cheney grimace and saying, "Bah, I don’t like this digital tomfoolery–not one bit!  In my day we had to huff developer until we saw Ernest Borgnine floating in the liquid–and we liked it fine!!  You kids are ruining everything."

Um, yeah.  Life, art, and expression move on.  If "photography" is something so brittle & exclusionary that it can’t bear evolution, then goodbye and good riddance.  (Don’t let the film door hit your ass on the way out…) It isn’t, of course, so maybe we can just bury the is-photography-dead schtick.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Posted by John Nack at 12:27 AM on December 13, 2007
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