Saturday, March 27, 2010

Contemporary issues facing photography.

I just finished reading two great posts on Frank Wards blog The Coruscating Camera. Frank is an outstanding educator. As a photographer he is equally gifted and talented. His blog always provides a wealth of resourceful information that at times still further educates me in various parts of the photographic industry. AIPAD or iPad, one of his recent posts describes his trip with colleagues to AIPAD Photography show in New York City. The AIPAD show, "70 of the world's leading fine art galleries" brings together some of the most noteworthy and iconic photographers we have seen. I have for years wanted to make it to AIPAD, but it just seems that every year it comes around, I am working on something and can not take the time away.

As I progressed through the article that Frank wrote, I started to think about some of the contemporary photographic issues that we are starting to see. Digital photography has made it easier for Joe Average to go out and buy a camera, make some images, edit them beyond near recognition as a photograph, and call himself a photographer. This Joe average falls into what I like to call, a happy snapper. The individual who takes pictures of everything and anything he sees with minimal creativity or technical and compositional know-how. This issue can make it hard for pros trying to do their job. This is most prevalent at weddings when cousin Tommy has a camera with him and tries to piggy back your shooting hoping he can get the image that you are and give it to the couple as a gift. This in theory can take away from your business as a professional. This is a staggering issue that I see. However, I have a feeling that we are going to see a social plateau of photography very soon.

People are still getting acclimated with digital photography as the industry is pushing away from analog (film and darkroom, i.e the disappearance of film) and making way for more technological break thorough in terms of camera capabilities, digital printers, and new contemporary practices such as HDR Photography. HDR Photography makes possible images that were once traditionally almost impossible to get. I say almost, because a photographer that truly knew how to make images and use the darkroom could potentially make photographs that fell into the spectrum of high dynamic range (HDR). Which presents shadows, highlights, and mid-tones in one photograph. At the present, HDR is most notably seen as the over saturated process of producing some highly surreal photographs. There is an influx of people running out and making the most surreal images they can think to compose. Which is great in all, but soon that will slowly fade away as this is a social fad that we are seeing.

It may seem hypocritical of me to say this, as below this post are images that are produced using HDR techniques. However, I do not strive to achieve the overly surreal aesthetic that some people adore. My photographs have been described as that "old Technicolor process” that came before my time. Back to Frank's post about the AIPAD. As I was seeing familiar names in his article, I was thinking about how he describes the cost of images are rising. I have known for years that traditional silver prints and images made using alternative processes, (non-digital) are still widely collected, desired, and sought after. This leads me to another photographic issue. With all the advancements that digital has made, where does that leave digital fine photography?

Digital photograph is an ease of use. Making prints is seemingly easier than actually processing film and going into a darkroom. In terms of makinng prints I would drop the word seemingly and say that digital printing is much more easier. Digital allows you to make a bad photograph great in post production with leaves out the technical proficiency to make a photograph that requires minimal editing. What does this really mean?

It means people rely way too much on technology to make a good photograph. This translates even further to people care less about knowing what goes into making a well composed, properly exposed, photograph. Instead they care more about what goes into post-production in terms of editing and manipulating their images. A bad image becomes good when it goes from being to dark to properly expose-d in photoshop or what ever other medium they are using to edit their images. This is what still separates the pros from the happy snappers, which can be called the over-editors of the contemporary photographic generation. Even with the internet being overloaded with thousands of articles and tutorials, online resources, online video tutorials, people still tend to just overshoot, over edit, and care less about the proper mechanics of making photographs. It is easier to just rely and fall back on technology to fix what could have been avoided.

Another photographic issue is the disappearance of film and darkrooms. Film is fun. Shooting films means you really need to know how to use your camera and equipment. If not, you will be making costly mistakes. As film is being faded out of the industry, collectors are still seeking those iconic images made using traditional techniques, processes, and film. I have heard very little about digital fine art photography being correlated with galleries in regards pieces being collected. Frank once asked me what I thought the major difference was between digital and film. My response was tangibility. There is a tangible quality that film offers that digital does not. You can hold a negative in your hands after having physically made the photograph. Digital does not provide this physical quality until the output of the print. Even then there is still a generic and false aesthetic to them photograph.

I can provide this argument on the premise that I essentially grew up in the film generation. Even after digital made its introduction to the industry, I still used film for a number of years. My formal education with photography is in traditional practices. 400 Tri-X stole my heart and will always remain dear to me. Two projects I am currently working on, which are scheduled for exhibition in the next year rely on film, darkroom, and large format printing.

As photography progresses, we are going to see a drop off in the happy snappers. Social networking and digital photography are still infantile to us and people are still adapting to these new resources of communication. How does social networking factor into photography? Well, that is simple. People use social networking, i.e Facebook and Myspace to share photographs. There is direct link between the two. That link is people and the social responsibility to share images. Photography has always been a social tool used to create art, document, provide a visual queue to news and media issues, and lastly bring people together in terms of posing for that snap shot or portrait depending on who is photographing you, the pro or Uncle Ned, the happy snapper.

Photography in general is still very young in comparison to painting. There are a lot more advances to come. Some are great, some not so great. Fads replace photographic movements, such as pictorialism, impressionism and the photo-successionist movement. If you have a desire to learn more about things like this take a History of Photography course and familiarize yourself with contemporary practices. Academic institutions are still very much educating students in traditional processes of photography. But even so, a restructuring of the educational curriculum is being implemented as film is being pushed out.

As I was writing this article I came across this site: I think it is every bit worth the time invested to read some of the interesting topics included. You can also find links to pictorialism and other movements within this site as well as complete history of the medium including the contributions that women have made. Women have always had a massive and influential role in the medium. As photographers and models, women have helped to shape, mend, and mold the medium. This in of its self is another history class that can be taught. A women’s role in photography was similar to the social networking role in the contemporary practice of photography. I suggest reading and researching the impacts that women have made to photography. It is way to much for me to cover at this point in time. But in conclusion I will say this, if you get a chance to shoot film before it disappears, please do so. Even if you do not get into the darkroom, you can still scan your film and work with it digitally. But knowing you’re holding a tangible piece of photographic evidence (the negative) speaks much more loudly than any memory card ever could.

1 comment:

FreePhotoResources said...

Very nice thought provoking article Jeff. Nice to see a more in depth look at this area of photography!