I’m not used to arguing. I usually just write my piece and then I’m done with it. It’s easy to have an opinion… What’s that saying? “Opinions are like @r$3|-|0|_3$, everyone has one”, and I am certainly one. Arguments are very different though, which means I have to (*ugh*) rely on facts and “prove” my stance. How boring. Here goes nothing.
While you have already read the other undercover writer’s opinion, and perhaps been swayed by it, you should now forget all of it, because, as usual, I’m right, and here’s proof:
Most arguments against the stance we’ve taken on our cover are just creative ways of playing hide the ball with the facts. Although I haven’t read the opposing view (and am not allowed to read it until it’s published), I assume that it will boil down to arguments of popularity. If billions of people are clicking photographs now, surely that means that the art of photography is alive and kicking, right?
Well, a large number of people think Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj are “artists”, or worse, “musicians”. If you’re one of them, put this magazine down now, I have nothing more to say to you. Call me a “purist”, but I prefer music that actually has some meaning and requires real talent to make.
Similarly, just because billions of photographs are vomited out of smartphones and cheap cameras the world over doesn’t mean they’re photography art. If anything, people’s social media accounts are beginning to look like the old albums our parents and grandparents like to pull out to embarrassingly show your friends your overexposed baby pictures. What I’m trying to say is, the pictures we take are crap, and given that we can immediately see that they are crap after clicking them (which our grandparents couldn’t), us still uploading them proudly says something. Something not nice.
We’ve seemingly become bored of photography as a herd, and poor videos and bad pictures are everywhere. Even those of us who take time and effort seem to be clicking pouty faces with filters that make us look as unrealistic as possible. The beauty of capturing a subject, raw, and real, and telling a story through photographs still exists, and there are enough and more professionals who continue to be dedicated to that task. Heck, we’ve got an interview with one such person a little later. But they’re not the masses, they’re not the direction we’re headed in, and they’re under-appreciated.
Photoshop and other software made it easier for those who couldn’t set up subjects to perfection, or know the ins and outs of their equipment (as professionals do). Flaws were being covered up, and then eventually, features that didn’t exist were being added on. Even simple HDR modes are essentially unrealistic. Whatever it is, it isn’t photography… it might be the digitising of painting, but it’s not photography.
Technology, as usual, kept going, and making the entry point to everything much easier. Not only that, it made everything cheaper (which is great for everyone), but what it also did was try to cover up for our inherent lack of skills, and adding on effects left right and center. Smartphones added basic levels of AI to their camera software, to try and auto adjust several parameters to (usually) get a much better photograph than you could have managed on your own without help. The end result? All of the above comes together to make us appreciate the pains of the art of photography less. It’s why many of us went out and bought entry-level DSLRs, only to shoot with Auto mode all the time. That’s when we use them, of course, because more and more people are ditching the DSLR for a good phone.
Now, before you throw a tantrum about your own experience and how you love your DSLR and lovingly kiss it goodnight before you sleep… and how so many more people you know are buying DSLRs… the numbers just don’t add up sadly. DSLR sales are slumping*, and it should be growing given simple population growth projections. The DSLR share of the billions of pictures we are exposed to is miniscule, and falling. Actually camera sales of all categories (except smartphones) is falling.
Whether we like it or not, the camera heydays are over, as most of us are relying on our phones to do our photography. Camera manufacturers are going to cut jobs even more massively than before, and will totally focus on the professional segment, which means higher prices, and less innovation and choice for entry- to medium-level equipment. In essence, it’s a total 180 of the previous trend of trying to put a camera in every hand. But is that bad? Not for me. No one wants to see the average Jogesh pull out a DSLR, get on his knees and photograph his girlfriend in front of some monument, using the standard perspective trick.
Social media, apps like SnapChat, and all of the standard things we click photographs for have flooded our brains with so much imagery, that we just cannot tell good from bad anymore. We’re just numb to the medium itself. If all you saw everywhere were oil paintings everywhere you went, by every person you ever encountered online, offline, and even randomly all over, would you truly appreciate a Van Gogh, Rembrandt or da Vinci when you saw one?
And it’s not just photographs, but memes that we’re exposed to. In fact, memes are typically badly drawn on purpose (or because of lack of skill, I don’t know), but the point is they’re meant to stick out by being ridiculous.
Another excuse made for the other side is the whole “art is changing” spiel. You know, like Picasso and the likes changed art from realism to whatever the heck that nonsense on display in modern art museums is. My side of the argument will likely be called the side that’s resistant to change, like old fogeys shaking their sticks at these young whippersnappers who are always on their phones. More playing hide the ball – because the art of photography can’t actually change. Unlike painting, where the creation is in the artist’s mind, photography is about finding the right moment, the right angle, the right subject, the right lighting, and all of the above. “Creation” of imagery is graphic design, not photography. The art of photography has never, and will never change. What is changing is our likes and dislikes and how we see the world.
Narcissism is the real problem. Social media has put us in the center, and made us want to project something to the world. Without really making any value judgements about whether this is good or bad, it’s diametrically opposite from the ethos of the photography art form. Professional photographers take great pains to try and be flies on walls, whereas we are the opposite. We’re constantly in the shot, front and center, and it’s always about us – no art will ever be made using a selfie stick. In fact, in some places, you can’t even go in and view the art if you are using a selfie stick!**
Then there’s the whole problem of the actual job of photographer dying out. Videographers certainly not, but photographers are certainly suffering. If you ignore the typical strawman argument that can be propped up to showcase the top professionals in their field, and focus on people who make (made?) their bread and butter by shooting images, you will find that jobs are drying up. Taking Digit itself as an example, in the past decade we’ve gone from a photography team of three full-time photographers to one part-time individual. Why? Because we found that you (our readers) didn’t appreciate the effort we used to put in to photograph every single product that came in through our test center. One day we switched to using press images, and nothing. Crickets chirping. It’s like no one even noticed the change… For online, reviewers just click images from their phones, because the art of staging a product is considered to be the manufacturer’s job, not ours.
Wedding photographers, studio photographers, product photographers, food photographers… you name it, they’re all a dying breed. Companies prefer to hire people who can do some other job, and happen to enjoy photography as a hobby. It’s gradually taken a backseat, because even smartphone photography is considered “good enough” for most purposes. This is not any businesses’ doing, it’s yours. Again, I make no value judgements, but the fact is good creative photography doesn’t seem to matter to most people, all it needs to be is informative.
If we were to do that for Digit, it would be akin to you being given data and facts to interpret, the way it is presented in a text book… If all of us so called “creative writers” for magazines, books and sites were losing our jobs, sales of aforementioned books and magazines, and visitors to sites were dropping drastically, and you (the readers) didn’t care because you were fine with getting textbook like information, would you say the art of writing was thriving? I think not. The same goes for the art of photography… we’ve killed it, or certainly relegated it back to being niche.
**Take a look at: http://dgit.in/SelfiBan
This article was first published in the July 2017 issue of Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.