I’ve taken a career path that could be considered as unique. When I joined drp as a Show Technician, I didn’t know how to take a picture with a real camera, and now, I’m a full-time Photographer professionally. I got here by using every resource I could find and yet I’ve never had a live teacher. The stream of consciousness that flows through the likes of YouTube, Flickr, 500px and Instagram has molded my skills and style. Feedback into these platforms brings me criticism and commendation. This is how I learned, and continue to learn, a medium that will apparently be destroyed by this same trend.
I recently returned from a photography exhibition and one seminar hall concentrated their program on social media for photographers. It was hugely popular, as you can imagine, yet there was a trend in speakers and delegates outside this discussion standing defiantly in the opposing camp. They saw social media as degrading. The low-quality rendering and compression didn’t do justice to their images. A “like” wasn’t sufficient feedback for them and this vast network of DIY artists was going to drown them in a sea of noise.
But we’ve heard that before. The music industry was going to die off when high-street giants gave way to digital downloads and music was going to be become intangible and lifeless, as bedroom producers patched symphonies together on a computer program. At the turn of the century, ‘going digital’ was the ‘threat’ to the Photography industry too.
During this time, my friend’s father was a professional Photographer who began to struggle. “People can just take a digital photo,” I paraphrase “and if they don’t like it, take it again.”
This was apparently killing his business because the public mindset was shifting. There was no skill in photography anymore, because a camera could think about it for you and not even incur costs of film and development. But was this true? Or did this shift simply separate the good from the bad? No longer did a photo simply need to be exposed correctly, developed well and captured on costly film. It had to be ‘something’ more.
But this ‘something’ wasn’t new either. When Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre were first marketing their runaway invention in the 1800’s, their biggest challenge was to create prestige against a dismissive art world. Needless to say, they succeeded in the hearts of the public by the virtues of speed (even when exposures took minutes!) and realism (even before colour!). Where early photographers endured was in taking the sensibilities of art and applying them to photographs. Techniques such as composition, lighting and artistic license were how a painting conveyed emotion and story. This wasn’t to be any different in a photograph.
And nothing has changed.
As we scroll through our feeds on our social media of choice, pictures don’t catch our eye for being correctly exposed, sharp or high in megapixels. What cognitively captures our minds is pattern recognition, whether this be in colour, shapes or facial features. These are what a clever digital camera cannot find for us.
And so, photography, like many industries in the digital age, gets laid bare. No longer can it rely on traditional marketing and the boast of technical knowledge. Any successful photographer can no longer work on a basis of guaranteeing several bright pictures, and neither can they rely on resolution or even speed. They must be creative and innovative. What they deliver must engage with the viewer and, most importantly to us, communicate.
Joseph Keys – Photographer