Is Photography Dead?
“Photography’s dead,” says a slew of articles recently published from renown sources the likes of Newsweek, Time, The Guardian, and numerous other news sites and blogs, too many to list here. Now that everybody has a cell phone camera, the argument generally goes, photography is so diluted that great photos are, in essence, extinct. People no longer “need” to purchase photos to hang on their wall, they no longer need to take the time to shoot a scene or take the time to appreciate an image. Novices can now take pro-level shots thanks to their high level cameras, and photography is in fact dead because of the proliferation of photography itself.
Well, that’s the argument anyway.
But there have always been naysayers towards both photography as a whole and towards photographers themselves. Even the photographic near-deity Ansel Adams had his own critics, as “nowhere in Adams’s work is there anything as sensuous or innovative as Weston’s nudes or close-ups of natural forms,” said the New York Times in 1995. Pretty harsh words for an apples to oranges comparison, and against one of my personal all time favorite photographers – ouch!
But again, there will always be the naysayers, the critics, the debbie downers. “Photography’s dead.” Okay – is that because you’re frustrated that your compositions are still lacking despite your brand new iPhone? Or perhaps worse, you spent nearly $4000 on the latest Sony, Canon, or Nikon, and you are still taking the same sub-par muddled landscapes you were with your cell phone, just in 40+ megapixels? Double ouch – to both the ego and to the wallet.
The real problem is the problem of “me.” Me, as in nobody can ever be as good as “me.”
Not to drift too far from the subject, but the whole argument seems quite similar to the generational gap; cold war kids today say millennials never had it easier – funny how it was the baby boomers who not only created and manicured today’s “lazy” millennial generation, but also were themselves at one time labeled the “me generation.” I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before millennials are following suit and labeling their own children as lazy and entitled. It’s an infinite cycle whose underlying theme is that nobody can ever be as good as “me”. And that’s horribly annoying, egotistical, and inaccurate. Unless you happen to be a gold medal olympian, no matter how good you are at something there is always going to be someone better. At the very least, there is always someone else who does it differently, unique enough that you might be able to draw inspiration from them. To me that’s one of the greatest draws to photography – no matter how perfect a photo you might have captured, the question always lingers: could you have done it better? Could you be better?
The key is to slow down. I do this by taking the time to appreciate a scene away from the confines of my camera. I study the light, I research the place, I determine where I need to be and at what time, and I ask myself what kind of composition I’m looking for. That’s all before I even arrive on scene. It doesn’t always work out. My attempted photo trip to Norway early last year was a photographic bust, but I enjoyed the hell out of it anyways because the scenes were awe inspiring in person, although they didn’t necessarily work on camera due to a slew of issues outside of my control. I’ll still take the blame though, because I chose to spend a mere week in northern Norway in early January, and I had somehow expected the weather to work in my favor. What arrogance! Lesson learned, but does that mean the trip was a bust? Hell no! It was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken regardless of the pictures I captured. And some of the photos worked out despite the weather, perhaps some were even better due to the vibrant blue hues emanating from continually overcast sky.
Patience, access, methodology, research, and appreciation of a scene all come into play. Average photos are a dime a dozen – just search through the millions of pictures on Instagram. Great photos have always been rare, regardless of whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or the latest DSLR. Sure, there’s a lot to sift through now that nearly everyone (it seems) is shooting with a high quality cell phone camera of some sort. But there are also a lot of inspirational gems out there: lots of photographers still take their time to capture truly beautiful scenes. These are photographers like David Lazar, Timothy Allen, and Ben Horne, people who know what it takes to capture a scene in a special, unique way. Their resultant images are each a result of preparation and thought, as though they are signing their name to their photographic medium. For these photographers and many more like them, their art is deeply personal, far moreso than the simplistic act of clicking the shutter.
The recent proliferation of photography doesn’t mean the medium is dead, it means that we all have to be better in order simply to keep up. Anyone who says otherwise is likely frustrated and probably is not very good at taking pictures. The competition is tougher and more pervelant. And that’s a damn good thing! What an age we live in!