Any activity that results in something that evokes emotions in viewer can be considered art. Photography invokes emotions in the viewer. It really is that simple. How good a photo looks in terms of clarity, is not what makes a photograph a piece of art. Rather, it’s the composition of the photograph (lighting, composition etc), the amount of thought and effort put into taking that perfect shot etc., that make up the characteristics that define good artwork. Just because you can do it from a smartphone doesn’t mean photography is no longer art.
One of the main things tech innovation does is to make a task easier to do, and that’s all technology has done for photography. Remember the analog days when photography was a time consuming and expensive hobby, exclusive to the rich or professionals? When you couldn’t immediately see the results of the shoot, but had to spend hours developing it in a lightroom? All that changed when technology introduced us to digital photography. It levelled the playing field and brought photography to the masses.
Technology is constantly improving the quality of photography and cameras, and I’m going to walk you through some of these developments.
It has never been easier for someone to get started with photography. There are countless resources for photography online that teach photography. Forums to clear all your queries are a tap away. In fact, many of the mainstream photographers were self-made. Take Ana Bathe, the unconventional portraiture photographer for example; she was rejected by all the photography schools she had applied to and taught herself photography through online videos. The internet has also made it easier for photographers to showcase their work. Services like Patreon, 500px and DeviantArt have given photographers the ability to upload their content online and even monetize them. If anything, technology is helping the photography art form thrive and grow.
DSLR sales doesn’t affect photography
There’s no denying that DSLR sales have dropped drastically since the advent of the smartphone. However, this does not directly equate to the death of photography as an art form. Photography has always served two purposes, documentation and creative photography. By documentation, I mean, taking photos purely for recording a moment. A large section of the population bought DSLRs for documentation purely because of its superior quality. With the improvement of smartphone cameras, that need just went away. However, they weren’t the “Artists” in the first place, so using a drop in sales to them doesn’t prop up the argument that the art form is dying. A similar trend can be seen in the sale of PCs. The overall number of PCs sold is decreasing at an alarming rate. But can you equate that to coding dying out? Obviously not, because we seem to have coders coming out of our ears these days!
Phones have full-fledged manual mode, and some even shoot in RAW! In some cases the quality is pretty comparable to that of a DSLR. Phonearena recently did a face-off between the Samsung Galaxy S8, The Panasonic GH4 and The Nikon D5100. Although the cameras won, the S8 put up a good fight. Chase Jarvis, an award-winning photographer who wrote a book about iPhone photography once said, “The best camera is the one that you have with you.”
New innovations in technology have given cameras the ability to see more than just the visual spectrum. Lytro and it’s light field cameras have been heralded as the next big revolution in photography since digitization. For the uninformed, a light-field camera captures the light field emanating from the scene. Where a conventional camera records only the intensity of light, the light field camera records the direction of propagation as well. This translates to the photograph carrying enough information about the scene to be able to change the depth of field later. This gives power to the photographer as an artist. Lytro’s webgl player allows the viewer to refocus the photos, interactively. This medium brings photography to the realm of interactive arts, an art form where the audience themselves are part of the artwork. The photographer, for instance could convey two stories where each story is revealed when the viewer focuses on a different point. Check out 500px’s lytro section for examples of art made with Lytro cameras.
Other innovations like 360-degree photography and Drones widen the camera’s perspective as well as the photographer’s. Red Bull may not actually give you wings, but drones do. They enable the photographer to go where physical limitations don’t allow her/him to. VR is a new way to experience photography, and it’s purely a technology innovation.
Software is still art
From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, photography observed an art movement called pictorialism. It was during this period that photography was realized as a fine art. This movement saw photographers, rather than depicting reality as is, give the photograph a few artistic tweaks to give it a surreal feel. Some of the tweaks included using different hues like sepia or cyan compared to the usual black and white, making changes to the surface of the photograph and inserting brush strokes manually in post production. Julia Cameron’s photograph titled, “Angel of the Nativity”, (pictured above) is an excellent example of pictorialism.
All that software does is move this philosophy to digital photography – either in camera or the help of software. Instead of using physical processes to add effects, we use photo-editing applications like Photoshop. Even Instagram-like filters fall under this category, and phones come with inbuilt filters that can be applied on the fly. Purists will scoff at these photos and label them not art, but I think that’s unfair. They’re just different forms of art. It’s like purists complaining that Picasso or Cubism isn’t art. They’re just a different type of art, that’s all. Technology is really just elevating and diversifying the art form of photography as a whole.
I don’t think photography is a dying artform. I think standards are evolving, innovation is driving change, and everyone getting a capable camera in their pocket is resulting in diversity of ideas like never before. Personally, I hate the idea of selfies and Snapchat and neither do I like modern art, but who am I to proclaim that they’re not art? As long as there are people who appreciate something and call it art; it’s art. Period. An art can die, but only if the means to the art, die. In all other cases, it evolves. Photography and cameras aren’t going anywhere, and as long as we’re clicking photos, the art of photography can never, ever, die.
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.