I was reading an article the other day about the number of photographs that are taken each year, and in addition the number of photographs with people in them, who don’t know that they are IN them.
A bit of research took me to the oldest known photograph with people in it. It was taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre, and it shows Boulevard du Temple, in Paris.
The street is lined with lamps and trees, and in the middle of the frame is a tiny figure. A man getting his shoe shined, who likely had no idea his image was being captured at all. (In fact, Boulevard du Temple is and was a busy street. When Daguerre took the photo, there were carts and people streaming up and down the street and sidewalks, but only this one man shows up because the photograph had to be taken over the course of 10 minutes. Only the man standing still shows up after such a long exposure.)
A lot has changed since then – think of the numbers of photographs taken each day, and uploaded to Facebook, or shared with applications such as Snapchat. Facebook revealed in a white paper that its users have uploaded more than 250 billion photos, and are uploading 350 million new photos each day. It’s a number that I just can’t get my head around.
Another way to think about it (and data here from another blog I read) – more photographs are uploaded every day, than existed in total 150 years ago – and that’s just the ones that are uploaded. It doesn’t count all the ones stored on hard drives.
Images are becoming almost mundane – it’s all been done – and much like the UK debt, they can only increase with the passing of time, especially if you think of the numbers of mobile phones being used as cameras.
I do wonder, at what point will the number of images being taken, become so overwhelming that the medium of photography will become trivialised and border on meaningless.
Already it is getting harder and harder to find images that are unique, and photographically exciting. The rise the in popularity of photography started to skyrocket around the year 2000 with the production of the ‘smart’ phone. Photography is now moving forward so fast, that it’s likely to be tripping up over its own feet.
Has the magic disappeared?
I certainly think that some photographers have started to become lazy. For example, take the photographing of UK wildlife – if you wanted photographs 20 years ago – you had to go out and look for it yourself. You had to learn skills. Tracking, hunting, understanding your subject. Now, if you want a photo of, say, a red squirrel, you just look on line, and pay someone to set up a hide for you – supply the requisite nuts – and maybe even tell you what camera settings to use.
And of course it’s even easier with a digital camera – you can afford to make mistakes and use the wrong settings. Just take a lot of images, and if it all goes wrong, pay again, and shoot again. The comment “oh, it’s another red squirrel”, was not one you would have heard even 10 years ago, but it is much more prevalent now.
For me, the act of being a photographer is much more than just recording my day to day life, and posting my lunch on Instagram. It’s about the excercise of the process, rather than the result of the process.
A commitment to follow the path of art can be a thrilling one. It’s not about the technology (though as I have said in the past, it can help), it’s about the making of the image, and I still find this to be the very best part.
I’ve also found over the last 18 months or so, that entering competitions has lost some of its flavour. I see so many changes and developments in the different categories of the competitions, and just can’t keep up with all of them. Not that I’m expected to I suppose.
On the other hand, I find the new technologies to be tremendously exciting – the advent of the mirrorless camera has provided me (and a good number of others) with a new found freedom. They are lightweight, compact, and the images are massively superior to some of the older DSLR cameras out there – and when I say older, I don’t mean THAT much older either. The ability to throw a small camera into a bag and walk out and shoot has been something I missed for a long time.
My first camera was a Sony Cybershot with 3.2 Million Pixels. It used the (then fashionable) memory stick. Easy to stick in my pocket – it got used a lot. Then along came the bridge camera, and later my first DSLR – the Canon 350D – still reasonably compact – but then the Canon 5D, and later still on to the Canon 1Series. Each time they got bigger, heavier, and the lens followed suit.
The advent of mirrorless was only on the fringes of my perception for a long time. Then suddenly Fuji, Sony, Olympus, and others, produced a range of gear that, in the end I had to take notice of, and the purchase of the Fuji X-T2, and now X-T3, has encouraged (and allowed) me to shoot even more.
So, has photography been trivialised? To some extent I would think so – but in the same breath, I think there is still room for the serious shooter, and I’m looking forward to browsing Instagram, Facebook, 500px and other places for my next batch of inspiration.
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