The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don't understand.

Gloria. Cropped image from Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm macro lens.

On the last day of the PhotoPlus Expo I finally got why the camera industry has hit the wall and may never come back again in the same way. The folks who love cameras for the sake of cameras, and all the nostalgic feelings they evoke of Life Magazine, National Geographic, 1980's fashion, and 1990's celebrity portraiture, and other iconic showcases that made us sit up and really look at photography, are graying, getting old, and steadily shrinking in numbers.

I can profile the average camera buyer in the U.S. right now without looking at the numbers. The people driving the market are predominately over 50 years old and at least 90% of them are men. We're the ones who are driving the romantic re-entanglement with faux rangefinder styles. We're the ones at whom the retro design of the OMD series camera are aimed. We're the ones who remember when battleship Nikons and Canons were actually needed to get great shots and we're the ones who believe in the primacy of the still image as a wonderful means of communication and even art. But we're a small part of the consumer economy now and we're walking one path while the generations that are coming behind us are walking another path. And it's one we're willfully trying not to understand because we never want to admit that what we thought of as the "golden age of photography" is coming to an end as surely as the kingdom of Middle Earth fades away in the last book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This is not to say that photography is dying. Or that the generations coming behind us are doomed to failure and despair; far from it. They are living the golden age of photography from their perspective, and their heroes in the field are names we don't even know. This is a generation that values a personal vision that arrives as quickly as a phone call and has a much shorter half life than the one we experienced for our work, but then again, what doesn't move faster these days?

As I photographed in the booth for Samsung I looked out at the waves of people who were exploring the various products on the showroom floor and I became aware that most of them were well over 50 years old and the elders were carrying their big Nikons and Canons as badges of honor and with a smug attitude that their equipment choice was the one that would persevere through the ages.

But the very thing that makes a ruling party or a ruling generation is the same thing that will kill its paradigm. Our version of the market is almost a completely closed loop. At this Expo we worshipped at the altar of the same basic roster of speakers and presenters who've been speaking and presenting for the last ten years. We've closed the loop and the choice offered to younger photographers is to sit and listen to people old enough to be their grandmothers or grandfathers wax on about how we used to do it in the old days or to not come at all.

When I listen to lectures about how the market has changed what I hear from my generation is how to take the tools we programmed ourselves to love and try to apply them to our ideas of what might be popular with end users today. So we buy D4's and 1DSmkIV's to shoot video on giant Red Rock Micro rigs and we rush to buy Zeiss cinema lenses because we want the control and the idea of ultimate quality in our offerings while the stuff that the current generation is thinking about is more concerned with intimacy, immediacy and verisimilitude rather than "production value." To the new generations the idea of veracity and authenticity always trumps metrics of low noise or high resolution. And that need for perfection is our disconnection from the creative process, not theirs.

Our generation's fight with digital, early on, was to tame the high noise, the weird colors, the slow buffers and the old technology which saddled us with wildly inaccurate and tiny viewfinders and batteries that barely lasted through a sneeze. We pride ourselves on the mastery but the market moved on and now those parameters are taken for granted. Like turning on a television and assuming it will work. We are still staring at the technical landscape which rigidly disconnects us from the emotional interface of the craft. If we don't jump that shark then we're relegated to being like the photographer who makes those precious black and white landscapes which utilize every ounce of his PhotoShop skills but  which, in the end, become works that are devoid of any emotional context. In fact, they are just endless revisions of work that Ansel Adams did better, and with more soul, fifty years ago. Technique as schtick. Mastery for mastery's sake with no hook to pull in a new generation. Of course we like technically difficult work. It was hard for us to master all the processes a decade ago. Now it's a canned commodity, a pervasive reality, and what the market of smart and wired in kids are looking for is an emotional connection with their images that goes beyond the mechanical construct.

It's no longer enough to get something in focus, well exposed and color correct. It's no longer good enough to fix all the "flaws" in Photoshop. What the important audience wants now is the narrative, the story, the "why" and not the "how." The love, not the schematic.

So, what does this mean for the camera industry? It means that incremental improvements in quality no longer mean shit to a huge and restless younger market. They don't care if the image is 99% perfect if the content is exhilarating and captivating. No one cared if the Hobbit was available at 48 fps as long as the story was strong in 24 fps. No one cares if a landscape is perfect if there's a reason for the image of a landscape to exist. No one cares if a model is perfect if the model is beguiling.

My generation has long been fixated on "getting it right" and that presumes that our point of view is the one that is objectively right. But it's always been true that "your focus determines your reality."

What it really means for the camera industry is that the tools they offer the new generation must be more intuitively integrated and less about "ultimate." In this world a powerful camera that's small enough and light enough to go with you anywhere (phone or small camera) trumps the huge camera that may generate better billboards but the quality of which is irrelevant for web use and social media. The accessible camera trumps the one that needs a sherpa for transport and a banker for acquisition.

I look at the video industry and I see our generation drawn toward the ultimate production cameras. Cameras like the Red Epic or the Alexa. But I see the next generation making more intimate and compelling work with GH3's and Canon 5D2's and 3's. Or even cameras with less pedigrees. The cheaper cameras mean that today's younger film makers can pull the trigger on projects now instead of waiting for all the right stuff to line up. Cheaper good cameras mean more projects get made. More experience gets logged. More storytelling gets done. My generation is busy testing the "aspirational" cameras to see just how perfect perfect can be. And we're loosing ground day by day to a generation that realizes that everyone must "seize the day" in order to do their art while it's fresh.

If I ran the one of the big camera companies I would forget the traditional practitioners and rush headlong toward the youth culture with offerings that allowed them to get to work now with the budgets they have. Ready to do a video project? Can't afford a Red One or even a big Canon? How about a $600 Panasonic G6 and some cheap lenses? Ready to go out and shoot landscapes? Will a Nikon D800 really knock everyone's socks off compared to an Olympus OMD when you look at the images side by side on the web? No? Well, that's the litmus test. It's no longer the 16x20 gallery print because we don't support physical galleries any more.

So, there we were at the trade show and the majority of the attendees were guys wearing their photo jackets with a camera bag over one shoulder and a big "iron" on a strap over the other shoulder. And they had their most impressive lenses attached. And they walked through the crowd with pride because they were packing cool gear. And the pecking order of the old-cognescenti was: film Leica's, then digital Leica M's, followed by Mamiya 6 or 7 rangefinders, followed by Fuji Pro-1's, followed by big, pro Nikons or Canons and so on. While the few young people there zipped through the exhibits and took notes of interesting products with their phones.

The next generations aren't adapting to "hybrid photography" they invented it in a very natural way. We're the ones trying to label the intersection of video and stills and the co-opt it. But we keep overlaying our own preconditions to the genre.

If we understand that our focus determines our reality then we can try to change our focus and better understand where photography is headed, outside the parameters of our own little, private club. And that understanding will help us swim back into the  current of current of photographic culture instead of swimming against the tide trying to get back to a place to which we can really never return.

Yes, some people will still use "ultimate" cameras to create "ultimately sharp and detailed" landscapes, cityscapes and artsy assemblages but their audiences will be constrained to other groups of aging practitioners. Art is a moving target. To understand the target requires a constant re-computation of the factors involved.

It's a hoary stereotype but we need to look to the music industry. The delivery systems have changed profoundly and the music along with it. We can cling to Stan Getz and The Girl from Ipanema  but we certainly won't connect with the current market. I'm not saying we need to love hip hop or Daft Punk but we need to understand where the market is now. It's wonderful that you enjoy waltz music or polkas but if you want to swim in current culture you probably won't find those genres conducive to gaining general acceptance.

Cameras are and will get smaller and lighter. The lenses will get smaller and lighter and easier to carry around. The gear will get easier and easier to use. And why shouldn't it? The gear will get more and more connected. Maybe the cameras don't need to master the entire internet on their own but it will get easier and easier to move images from camera to phone or camera to tablet. And why shouldn't it get easier? Making the process harder for the sake of artisanal martyrdom doesn't move the art along its way. And why should it?

Where is photography going? Where it always gone. It's going along for the ride with popular culture. It's the traditionalists that feel a sense of loss but the sense of loss is from the constant evolution of tastes and styles. If you look at photo history you'll see generational warfare at every junction. Resistance to smaller camera formats! Resistance to color film! Resistant to SLR cameras! Resistance to automation!

And in the art you see Robert Frank as the foil to the arch perfectionism of Group 64. You see William Klein as the antidote to the preciousness of Elliott Porter. You see Guy Bourdin as the antithetical anti hero to Snowdon and Scuvallo. Each move forward was contentious and cathartic. Just as Josef Koudelka was the revolutionary to Walker Evans.

The camera market is in the doldrums now because it is conflicted. Go with the aging money? Or go with the maturing new markets? Go with a shrinking but loyal market or blaze a new trail based on new cultural parameters? The spoils will go to the companies that get it right.

What do I see as "must haves" for the industry to resonate with the new markets?

Cameras must be smaller, lighter and more accessible. 

Cameras need to work with less nit picky intervention on the part of the operators.

Whole systems must be smaller, lighter and more financially accessible.

Cameras should be interconnected with phones and tablets in an almost mindless way.

Cameras must no longer be precious and coveted. They need to be more like phones. A commodity that gets replaced as new stuff comes out with feature sets more conducive to the mission.

Apple has it just right. Make things that are simple to own and simple to use. Make menus easier and not harder. Eliminate the need to make unnecessary decisions. Make design more important and ultimacy less important. Change the focus of consumers in order to own the markets.

Is my advice any good? Naw. I'm as trapped into my generation as anyone else. But I do know that the first step to freedom is to throw off the resistance to change. You'll never change the momentum of the overall market but you can always change your own focus. And then you may open new doors of perception that allow you to do your own work....but in a new way. Like a bridge.

Continue to tell your story. But make sure you are delivering it in a way that people will be able to understand. Change is inevitable and fighting it is the first step to failure.

For a while my markets drove me back into full frame cameras. But those markets have changed so much that it no longer seems to matter. Now I'm just looking for cameras that are fun and easy to embrace. They all take good enough images now. Ultimate quality is now taking a back seat to intimacy and immediacy. A big camera is no longer a prerequisite for a place at the table.

Edit: go see what Michael Reichmann has to say about all this: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/pdn_photoplus_2013.shtml

Edit: Just read this at the NYTimes and found it .... familiar: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/27/opinion/sunday/slaves-of-the-internet-unite.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20131027&_r=0

(EZ reader translation for people who have forgotten how to read long stuff....

All cameras now good. Technical Mastery not as important as in year's past. Old guys love technical mastery. New guys like making different style images and don't care about image perfection. Aesthetic pendulum swings from perfect to emotive. Some camera makers evolve. Some not.  Cameras getting smaller and easier to use. Old styles of shooting fading. New styles emerging. Good time to be a photographer. Change is inevitable. Change is good for young people. Change harder for some old people. Kirk is happy and now goes off swimming. May toss all old gear and just get better phone. short enough?)

Studio Portrait Lighting

in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....

Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....

Edit: Added 11/6: Here's another one that will make you gnash your teeth: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/08/has-bubble-burst-is-that-why-camera.html

Family Photography: Candid Moments & Storytelling


Unknown said...

Kirk-this is so well written, and is such a profound observation that I feel that it's central tenet can be applied across the board. We baby boomers feel like our way is the right way. The trophy camera carrying, middle aged (man), is now almost a caricature. For some time, I could not unspderstand why my children love their out of focus, grainy, poorly balanced Instagram photos so much. It's because their pictures have meaning to them, despite the technical flaws, I think that the younger generation actually prefers the esthetics of photos that are filtered to look more immediate, less constructed.

Dave Hime ( age 50 something)

Unknown said...

Thank You Kirk
I have nothing profound, intelligent or funny to add and this post doesn't need anything extra.

Gary said...

Beautiful distillation of where we are today with photography. Being on the other side of 50, it gives me lots of food for thought. Thanks much

Gary Sloman

Gary said...

Well thought out distillation of where photography is going. Being on the other side of 50 it gives me much to ponder. Thanks for this and the other thoughtful ideas that you share.

John Krumm said...

Very well written and thought through, Kirk. I just listended to a podcast interview of photographer Oded Wagenstein, who wrote "The Visual Storyteller" for Craft and Vision, and his ideas are very much in line with your... see this link if you are interested: http://www.martinbaileyphotography.com/podcasts.php?dm=3#top

Art in LA said...

I have absolutely no problem with the democratization of photography ... let more visions and voices be seen and heard! Everybody should be able to tell their story through pictures, right?

Roger Whitehead said...

Bravo, Kirk. Insightful and well put.

Your central thesis is, as I see it, inarguable but I'm not sure it's only young people who are preferring the intimate over the ultimate. Here in Britain, at least, it's common to see middle-aged people (and older) wielding phones, pads and tablets to take photos.


Roger (a greybeard with an X-Pro1)

Wolfgang Lonien said...

I'm well over 50 as well (one year younger than you), but the camera I always grab is the tiny E-PL5. Oh, with a VF-2 viewfinder of course, because I am old school.

Good enough for my cat and family photos. Also good enough for the occasional land- or cityscape. And I seldom print wider than 16", but could double that if I need to. The web? Any camera is good enough for that...

C. Kurt Holter said...

Once again you've nailed it.

Claire said...

I guess I'm a very untypical photographer. I'm under 50, and I'm a woman, and despite that, I love the gear, and I love the craft, the one that needs homework to be, if not somewhat mastered, at least understood. I have a fierce aversion (and I mean, fierce) for cellphone photograpy. I hate HDR with a passion and "street" bores me half to death. However, I can rely to what you're saying regarding what defines my "work" : the immediacy, and the storytelling. I won't ditch a slightly out of focus shot if it talks of motion and the poetry of childhood (my subject of choice). I couldn't care less about technical nitpicking and I do no pixel peep, at least not unless a shot is compelling to start with. To me the NEX cameras have been a revelation, because they associated fine IQ with portability and the ability to capture the moment in an unobstrusive way. And though they often make me cringe with some of their quirks, I still find myself shooting them, and will for a while yet I think. I don't think cellphones can ever replace proper cameras for proper pictures. But maybe that's the old fart in me ;)

caerphoto said...

While I enjoy your posts about specific cameras, it's really posts like these that I love the most, that keep me coming back to your site. Excellent stuff!

Kevin Blackburn said...

Well said and very obvious once one reads it Great piece Kirk thanks for the thoughts.

Kevin Blackburn said...

VERY WELL said and really obvious once you pointed it out though not in my 50s (only 40) I am on the tale end of the golden age and in the front of the new age but a bit more fond of the past Still a happy shooter just enjoying my craft and making a living . Thanks for sharing

Brad Nichol said...

Kirk, a truly seminal article, it has brought several discordant views into focus for me.

For over two years now I have found my iPhoneography work far more satisfying both expressivly and artistically, and importantly others who have viewed my work have felt the same.......but still I have felt guilty about my choice of tool.

The apps, connectivity, flexibility and adequate quality have freed my creative juices and excited me about photography in ways I have previously not experienced, still I felt guilty.

My walls are adorned with iPhone created artworks that are emotionally and expressivly powerful, yet still I have felt a little guilty.

Well now I feel comfort, I made a choice of tools and the results are all that matters.

Concurrently I recently made an associated decision, for two years now virtually all my non-iPhone photography has been shot with a lowly Sony Nex 5n. It has more than a few tweaks and has been set up to suit my needs.

The results have been great and after several trips abroad with the iPhone and Nex I have come to the point of thinking, I just don't need a new camera, after two years and many many thousands of images we just operate as one.....why would I gain anything from changing.

Oh sure that new A7s sounds great but reality is for the odd time I need that sort of quality there is always image stacking, stitching and a whole bunch of other options I can use.

After serving a 35 year apprenticeship in photography all I really want to do now is use all that knowledge and skill to make images that I love. I just don't need any more cameras or lenses for that matter, what I have now is enough, more than enough.

I wonder what happens when a critical mass of photographers come to the same viewpoints......oh wait maybe that's exactly what is happening.

Nothing to feel guilty about at all and a lot to feel relieved about.

Ultimately I would much rather spend my money on going to places where I can take new and interesting images than buying expensive new gear to fondle while siting on the lounge wishing I could afford that next holiday.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good read. Most of gear on the market is now good enough to make good pictures. But to make interesting photos you need a soul in them, a story.

It is not the camera, it is not the software: it is the "brainware".

Otherwise we only have good technical exercises.
Changing times, interesting times.

robert, 65

Anonymous said...

In the past, it was the instamatic, throw away cameras, and then point and shoot cameras. Because these cameras had lots of limitations, a significant number of use upgraded to an SLR. The young crowd today have a more convenient camera in their cell. One of the big differences today is the rapidly changing cell phone camera. The camera phones get better at the same time the younger crowd gets older and possibly want better pictures to the point many of them see no need to carry a clunky large second camera. Their upgrade path is the next iPhone. At some point the cell phone camera will reach a technical limit due to the size limitations of the phone but at that time the SLR market will have greatly shrunk.


Ian C said...

Yet another thought-provoking and deep seeing article. You have the enviable ability to stand outside and commentate on what you see within.

Sadly, I am sure that you are right (well, I would say that, being a greying (who am I kidding, grey!) sixty-five year old male). Long gone are the days when seeing a photographic print on a wall was exciting, as was actually being able to see through the lens of an slr, to see the magical effect of different focal lengths, and to see an image appear before ones eyes in the developer tray. I have moved on; I've embraced digital. Though I fit the profile, I've always had some disdain for folk who wander around photography shows toting their photographic jewellery, and I have embraced mirrorless! But I get a lot of pleasure from processing and honing an image to produce what I think is a great print. But, is it satisfying? Well to me, self-satisfaction really isn't enough, and I want others to appreciate my work. But what demographic is this likely to appeal to? Why, people like me! A dwindling number of like-minded geriatrics. As you so acutely observe, the mindset of later generations is different. The big question is, where to next?

christian said...

Well, you absolutely nailed it Kirk. I am over 70 and my main camera now is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20, and I was delighted to see that Daido Moriyama, who is my age, uses a digital 'point and shoot.' He 'gets it' too.


Unknown said...

This is saddening, as it addresses so much more than photography.

Doug said...

Kirk: I'm 56 and still miss my F3. Don't get me wrong. I don't miss the expense of film or the limitations of that camera for my type of photography (nature). I simply miss the feel of a beautifully made tool. It's sort of like my great grandfather's hammer. My new hammer is technically better in many ways. It's just that my great grandfather's hammer feels right in my hand in a way the newer, perfectly balanced, computer designed hammer does not.

I used to be a pretty good baseball player. I used several gloves through the years, but there was one glove that felt best to me. It wasn't the newest or best, but it fit me, well, like a glove. I simply haven't found a camera like that for years. They're all unwieldy, heavy, cluttered and often ugly, despite being ten times more capable than my F3.

Am I a hopeless throwback? Or am I just looking for a seamless experience with a tool that allows me to take photographs without carrying a 200 page user manual, getting hand cramps after 5 minutes of use or inadvertently turning on video as I put it into my camera bag.

Is it really that hard to make a good camera?

MikeR said...

Thoughtful and thought provoking as usual, Kirk.

From the perspective of someone who is not a pro photographer, I found the Photo Plus Expo demographic encouraging. Back in an earlier phase of my photography journey (about 30 years ago), the photography expo’s I attended were perhaps 95% middle aged white men. The few women there accompanied their husbands. Perhaps I saw one black face in the crowd, and an occasional Asian. About half the men dressed sloppily, and smelled bad. I attributed that characteristic to too much time in the darkroom.

In NYC, I saw many women who were attending on their own, and carrying their own big cameras. Many races represented. Oh, there was still a fair contingent of sloppy middle aged white men who smelled bad. (Too much time at the computer?) But there was a definite shift to a younger, more diverse, (and better looking) demographic. The times they ARE a-changing.

Personally, besides stopping by Samsung to say “howdy” to you, my mission for attending Photo Plus Expo was for hands-on time with the Galaxy S4 Zoom (a camera that happens to have a phone built in), the Olympus EM-1, and the Panasonic GX7. The S4 was so I could always have a serviceable camera with me (I always have my cell phone, so … ). The GX7 to see how it felt, to replace my GF1 while not having to fiddle with the detachable viewfinder. (A winner - 2014 sometime, I’ll probably buy one.) The EM-1 to see what the fuss was about. For me, it’s a dismissible camera.

I have no particular attachment to the old days. I love that the magic of the darkroom that I learned in the Air Force when I was just 20 can now be done (better) without chemicals and gobs of water and standing in the dark for hours. I embraced digital when it became both good enough and affordable. But, despite my gear focus, deep down I know it’s not about the camera. I have an old Canon P&S A530 that I use with the CHDK hack. From its puny little files, I have made some interesting prints on my Epson R2880. So, I’m back to where I was in the 1960’s: the print’s the thing.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Joe, I don't think it's sad at all. It's the passing of one era but the start of another. Knowing where we've been is great but we can't stand still. If Weston were alive today I'd like to think he'd be out shooting video or shooting with a totally new camera instead of endlessly re-exploring the same coral, rocks and beach.

Styles change and age or experience shouldn't be an impediment to staying meaningfully engaged.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Funny the stuff that bubbles up when you have a birthday.

mgr said...

Great article - so much to think about. A couple thoughts:

"...how to take the tools we programmed ourselves to love and try to apply them to our ideas of what might be popular with end users today."

"...make sure you are delivering it in a way people will be able to understand."

Are we talking about art, or about pop culture? I'm thinking about the riots at the impressionists' gallery opening, or van Gogh's dismal life. I mean, if you want to be part of the current conversation, you go with the flow, but isn't art often something very different than whatever is currently popular?

I don't know. I'm mostly just trying to justify my recent purchase of some old Takumar glass for my new K-01. It's not as much "artisanal martyrdom" as it's I like how it feels.

(And yes, funny what bubbles up, indeed - my own odometer just passed 50.)

Old Gray Roy said...

This blog post is on-target and germane. Well done. And yes, birthdays do cause a stirring in the personal pool of philosophical detritus bringing some marvelous insights to the surface.

I have been taking photo courses at the local community college off and on for the past decade. The teen and 20-somethings may not have our life experiences but we ignore them at our peril. I have learned from them, among other things, to use the iPhone as a handy replacement for older note-taking devices. And they can be creative by seeing things in ways that we do not.

Final comment: So much discussion of smaller, lighter, more convenient, easier to carry does not apply to me, though I wish it did. My hands and fingers are large and no longer nimble as a function of age and arthritis. It is better to have mass and substance to work with in this case. Do you have that Sherpa's phone and email?

Joel said...

Very well written article. Content is the driving factor in photography. It makes sense too.

Given that and that I am under 30, I still do not like instagram. It annoys me actually, but that doesn't stop the millions of other people that love it.

Given the choice of a technically poor picture with good content vs a technically great picture with bad/no content, most younger people would pick the content as you mentioned. I just imagine how good pictures would be taken with a real camera every time I see a blurry cell-phone picture.

James Pilcher said...

As always, a thoughtful useful post from you, Kirk. But really, should you be providing such good information for free?

Dave Vargo said...

Sometimes it seems like photography in this new era is regressing. A local newspaper cut back on its staff. They asked the public to post photos of a big downtown race event. Some of these made the print edition. Honestly, many of them were not very good pictures. People were trying, but cellphones are not good at capturing action. Even the portraits of participants were mostly not so hot because the iphone doesn't have a super flattering focal length for people pictures, and it has minimal DOF control.

Also, some of these cellphone photos had terrible noise in the shadows.

The rallying cry is that DSLRs are dead, but even a humble D70s with a 35mm 1.8G will blow a cell phone out of the water for people pictures. The "unwashed masses" that I've polled far prefer the DSLR photos to the iphone photos when it comes to portraits. They might not be able to say why, but they can tell the difference.

Farshore said...

Excellent points, well presented.
I'm well over 50, and in fact did not begin serious photography until I was 54 (coming from a painting background). I, mistakenly, assumed that it was always about the image and the story, and the gear was definitely secondary. Your comments about why some photographers have many multiples of cameras, far beyond what they need for professional work (if they are professionals) filled a hole in my understanding of that particular mindset. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece by any standard. By the standard of internet blogs, miraculous.

Back in the early 80s when I was working in video I helped a young aspiring music video director get his first paying job done. Single camera location shooting which I engineered myself and supplied a (very good, BBC, moonlighting) cameraman.

The apprentice director wanted the camera wobbling all over the place and it was hard to get the camera operator to abandon his usual steady hand-held style and run about after the performers. The director was both very confident in his approach and yet fully aware that his basic knowledge of the technology and the production process was woefully deficient.

A couple of years passed before I saw him again. In the meantime he'd become extremely successful - the hottest young music video director around. The first thing he said when we met up was "I know all my lenses now!"

The point of this old fart ramble is that there's no fundamental conflict between the youthful desire to abandon the preceding generation's M.O. and the consistent human need to do things better than previously. Low production values will only satisfy up to a point and lower technical quality is no guarantee of greater authenticity.


Jacques said...

I don't really know about that 50+ male sort of thing ! I'm in that league, working with whatever falls under my hand, but I'm surrounded by young females (21 +) with Spotmatics, FtBs, FMs and even 120 films cameras !!!
One of them even took the risk to ask the whitish oldie with a Nikon D3x where she could find some Tri-X or if the fuji Acros was good enough and could support ID 11 or Microphen...

Of course that's on the other side of the big pond, meaning good old Europe... I just guess that in a few years we'll see them all over the medias with a knowledgable sense of photography and by then, they will use what works for them !

French is a tricky language, we add "e"'s almost anywhere, specially at the the end of the famed "Charette" , as you're right about the origin, often mistaken with the same "charettes " that took the prisoners in 1789 to the guillotine to be executed !
You can see a "charette" drawing as it is often botched as the two wheeled cart bumped all over the street's "pavés" around the Beaux-Arts School in Paris... :-)


Priorityleft said...

Elitism is evolving itself into irrelevancy, egalitarianism is continuing to spread its wings. Natural selection in practice.....

Dave said...

While I agree with much of what you say I do not believe that the high end camera market is in really changing that much.

In the US the primary buyers of DSLRs are parents who want to take pictures of their kids. The reason why they buy DSLRs is that they need to take pictures of their kids playing football, throwing a javelin, performing in poorly lit school auditoriums, etc. Camera phones do a poor job in these scenarios.

The phrase that describes the most important segment of the DSLR community is: “soccer mom”. A majority of DSQL buyers are women. Most have kids under 6.

After years of double digit growth DSLR sales may have dropped back to where they were 2 or 3 years ago but the reasons people have been buying DSLRs have not gone away. Camera phones are still bad at taking pictures of people 50 feet away in a dark auditorium or at the other side of a basketball court.

The above is also the reason why mirrorless cameras have yet not taken over the interchangeable camera market in the US. The three reasons parents buy high end cameras is telephoto reach, low light capability, and the ability to quickly focus on their children when they are jumping a hurdle or scoring a goal.

Camera phones fail at all these. Mirrorless can do the first two but it falls down on the third. DSLRS can do all three. As a result, many soccer moms and dads buy DSLRS.

By the way, I speak as a parent (male) in the above demographic. The only difference is that I own 3 mirrorless (NEX) cameras. I dealt with the focusing issue by buying an LAEA2 adapter and a 80-300 mm alpha mount lens so I could have long reach and fast focusing when I filmed my son jumping hurdles. I am more geeky than most people in this demographic otherwise I would certainly bought a Nikon or Canon.

While my camera phone is fine for a group shot at a family reunion or for snapping the Grand Canyon, my NEXes (and their predecessors) have allowed me to take hundreds of important pictures and hours of video I could never have taken otherwise.

Richard Swearinger said...

The funny thing is that I've run into a couple of people under 25 who are shooting film with manual focus garage sale SLRs, one had a Canon and one had something from East Germany. Then in Italy earlier this month I saw a 20-something guy in an orange three-cornrered hat with two beautiful girls in tow and over his shoulder was a beat up Mamiya 6x7 film camera. We're definitely on the verge of something.

Richard Swearinger said...

One more thing…what killed technically competent photography was iStock...bright, light, well-composed, photos of attractive people with butterfly lighting and perfectly placed focus are now the unmistakable calling card of the scammer and the low-life; corrupt corporations, vitamin hucksters, real estate con artists, and maybe worst of all, the cheapskate.

Paul said...

In 1988 I remember saying to my wife that I wanted to get into film. For 23 years the main barrier to entry was cost. A couple of weeks ago I completed a multimedia piece that mixed stills and viseo clips from 4 different cameras with different formats and hugely different price points. The equipment really doesn't matter now it is what you can do with it.

I'm glad things have changed so radically as I am now able to do things that I could only dream about. I think it is a very exciting time, to be freed from the shackles of a medium and be allowed to express my thoughts in so many different ways.

Richard Jones said...

Regarding Tim Kreider's article: 30 years ago while in music school, a professor/performer encouraged us not to perform for free. He regularly got requests for his small band to play little gigs, maybe wedding receptions. When it came to discussing the fee, the response usually was, "Don't you play just for the enjoyment?"

Nothing has changed -- just the venue (now the internet world!)



Jamie Pillers said...

I suspect you'll look back on this entry some time from now and wonder why you bothered writing it. I think you'll see that this is the way things have always been. Technology evolves, some people resist, some don't. Some go with the latest, some are happy with the old.

What doesn't change is that thing not related to technology at all - the need to create beauty. We keep doing it, no mater what tool is at hand. And this beauty comes out of our 'human-ness', our relationships with the world and the people in it. That's the fire that moves us forward. If I only had a Holga at hand, I'd still pursue the 'itch' to make beauty.

Dave Jenkins said...

When I get depressed about all this, I go back and re-read my collection of old photography magazines. I have an almost complete set of Camera 35, my all-time favorite, going back to the very first issues from 1959. Heck, I'm 76. Leave my alone with my memories of photography's golden age.
(Actually, I'm quite a bit more up-to-date than you might imagine, but cell-phone photography isn't in the cards for me.

Erazem Jurković said...

I find this article very interesting. An "outsider's" point of view is always worth examining and discussing. If you don't mind, I'll comment on some of your points. (Keep in mind: I'm 18, use a Pentax K-5II, fav lens is the 35/2.4. However, when I can't carry my DSLR, I use my phone pretty effectively IMHO)

1. I need to congratulate you on your escription of what 'we' expect of photography, but I also want to reign it in a bit: for many people, the 'context' or 'story' of a photo is there only in relation to them.
Example: there are literally hundreds of thousands of portraits, taken with an entry level DSLR and 50mm lens, which appear artistic: the person photographed is framed according to the rule of thirds, and there are bokehs everywhere. But while the subject's boy/girlfriend might adore that photo to bits, I only see a nice headshot.
However, I'm not saying 'we' couldn't recognize or appreciate "real art" (I know, I know, eye of the beholder etc.) I actually went over some images with my friends once, and even though most aren't remotely interested in photography, each of them interpreted the photos in VERY interesting ways.

2. Equipment: Yes, most of my friends shoot with phones now. But many of them still have compacts. As discussed before, when looking at actual cameras, they expect them to be better in some tangible way ( =zoom (there is usually a mild shock when finding out my big, pro camera can't zoom with the on/off switch round the shutter button, or can't zoom at all)).
They also care about the looks (slim compacts and retro design: one of my friends asked me for buying advice and produced images of a X100s, OM-1 and OM-4. Yep, you read it right. Everybody also thought the Pentax K-01 was 'really stylish and retro', au contraire to most "real photographers' " opinions).

My prediction? Compacts under 150$/€/whatever will die out, everything else is firmly planted in some segment that needs just that kind of product.

I'd go on, but my hand is getting cramped from typing on a phone. Physical keyboards aren't going anywhere either.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Thanks. I appreciate the perspective.

Don said...

In some ways I'm glad I'm a talentless (late 40s) amateur with a bit of disposable income, rather than a professional who's livelihood depends on getting this stuff right!

It seems like quite an exciting time to be into photography and I'll be interested to see what's round the digital corner.

On the other hand, I can't wait for the 1950s Kiev rangefinder I just bought off eBay to turn up...!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Well said Tuck.
Digital is taking us, willing or not, on a wild ride.
I lost a few months of work, when a drive failed..
I am busy re-downloading many SD cards that i used as film..
In spite of the disaster, i am happy to continue.
I still shoot film, but the rigs are real small.
Traveling to South Africa to see family, i took a few P/S Digitals,charger and AA cells.
SD cards.
It all fitted in a tiny bag.
Security at airport a breeze

Anonymous said...

Well, there's always the exception. At 64 I've never carried the "big iron", not in the 70's or foward to this century. But, what you say makes sense anyway. I've seen plenty of the folks you describe at the photo shows. There is a whole subset to that group however that never had the money for the pricy stuff (and sure won't in their declining years) but still our love of photography is just as strong as theirs, just with more modest equipment.

I'm just now considering a E-PL1 w/kit lens and a VF-2 for $300. Sure, old technology that the guys in the photo vests would sniff at, but a wonder for me and with a few adapters I can stick all my old lenses on it.

John Robison

Dave Jenkins said...

Kirk, don't know if you saw this, but the great Bill Pierce, no less, one of the deans of photo-writing, posted a link to this article with the heading "Want to read something important?" on the Rangefinder Forum.

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

> So we buy D4's and 1DSmkIV's to shoot video on

You know something we don't ? An new 1Ds would be a surprise to most of us.

Anonymous said...

Well said Kirk. The depressing part is that folks are using low-quality devices to record important moments. As you said, they don't care about aesthetics, but immediacy. It is great that they are taking and sharing photos more than ever. But many years later, they may wish that they had put a higher priority on -quality- and a lower priority on quantity. Give me one memorable, high-quality photo versus a stack of crappy iPhone photos any day.

AndyK said...

And when was the last time you saw someone under 50 driving a Corvette?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

When was the last time you saw someone under 50 wearing a "photo vest?"

Young_Silver said...

Kirk, you are forgetting about is young folks who want nothing to do with digital anything because we want our fingerprint on our talent, we want out talents to actually show through. So some of us younger photographers have built darkrooms, bought for pennies on the dollar the equipment you older folks have discarded because a trend, marketing hype or some forum thread has brainwashed you into thinking that is the only way forward.

A lot of us younger photographers prefer our talent raw, not cooked or in the case of digital, microwaved. Some of us see no real future in using digital technology and if photography fails to yield us younger folks an income down the road, we will do something else that allows us to use our hands to craft our expression.

STA said...


This is a post I wrote after reading the thread at RFF. I've asked the owner of RFF to delete my account.

I just wanted to apologies for the behaviour you encountered on Bill Pierce's forum.

Shane @ shanetyleradams.com

The Second-To-Last Post


Mr. Tuck has it aright. Content over form.

I was at a dinner party not so long ago when a very famous, very successful-since-the-nineteen-fifties photographer overheard another photographer complain about a shot that couldn't get because he didn't want to shoot at ISO 6400. Mr Famous and Successful said, "I would have shot it at 6400." The other photographer said "But what about "image quality" at that high an ISO?" Mr. Famous and Successful said, "Image quality? What about it? Content? Framing? Light? You don't even have an image!! Never mind quality!!!"

And, you and I know that that has always been the yardstick. Not sharpness, not bok-whatever, not anything except content. All the other stuff is nice if you can make it happen exactly the way you want but in the final analysis content reigns supreme. Make it easier to get to the content is the rallying call of the young, Mr. Tuck claims, and I agree. Ironically it sounds a lot like Capa's "....get closer."

I guess this, this resulting rudeness, this is what it has taken to pound it into my head. "It" being that the guiding principle of photography and indeed all visual expression - Content Trumps All - is decidedly still in the bottom of the deck around these parts and continually shuffled lower. Yeah, I know, "it's a gear forum" except a lot of it ain't and hasn't been that way for a long time.

Oh, and not to disrespect some of the very good work at Arles, but there's lots more where that came from. A massive heap of lots more. And no, Mr. Tuck's piece was not about rhetoric, or even the "sharpness" of his writing. It was, in a nice metaphor, about content being king and that the next generation was experiencing a renaissance of awareness. And who cares what show he was at when he became aware of the fact.

There is nothing wrong, and in fact a lot right, with disagreeing with a person's point of view. Lately though it seems that various personages have been querelous and downright rude, transforming ideas about other ideas into personal attacks. I'll leave hoping that that is temporary, and those who have been right iceholes, have done so with perhaps at least the potential for latent awareness.

I know how to get in touch with the folks here who's ideas, and the exploration thereof, I respect. It is not without some regret, however, that this is my second-to-last post. The last post will be to Mr. Gandy with the request that he delete my account.
The limitations of photography are in yourself, for what we see is only what we are. - Ernst Haas


John MacLean Photography said...


That was a great read, and when I got to the end I chuckled at your abbreviated version, because all along I was thinking what 20 something is going to sit thru this! A friend of mine in his early 70s sent me the article this weekend. I just turned 51 and I (we) can relate. I had written something last Friday that resonates with the same tone as yours. We are certainly a fading breed. But that does mean I'll go down with the sinking ship, without kicking and screaming. Here's my article, I hope the link will post: https://www.facebook.com/notes/john-maclean-photography/pay-it-forward-friday-photo-tip-3-kiss-tell/10151697765477312

DSLRs till death!

Michael William Zukerman said...

It's a well shot movie of a horrible event. A griping photo of a destructive tornado. A beautiful meadow invaded by fire ants. and so it goes..

Jan Klier said...

Kirk, didn't realize you were at PPE. I went to the party Fri night and worked a booth Sat morning. Would have loved to say hi.

As to your observations, likewise as working from a booth perspective, this has turned into one weird industry. 'Conflicted' is probably the right word.

You might as well walk into a porn trade show in Las Vegas and it wouldn't be much different. I don't get why you would bring a camera to the show, let alone show off your most precious L lens, or any focal length over 50mm.

But I guess if photography for you is about showing off what you have, and your only chance of having an excuse to shoot a pretty girl, and you do so by shooting one of the booth setups and then post it to flickr, then there is not much harm done. Though calling it an industry trade show is a bit of a stretch then....

Generally it really didn't produce more than a gag reflex watching it all.

George Waldman said...

"Ultimate quality is now taking a back seat to intimacy and immediacy."
Intimacy and immediacy have been primary in my photographic impulses since I got my first Leica 55 years ago.

Richard Wong said...

I agree that we camera manufacturers need to start focusing on addressing current consumer needs more. I find it interesting that the 35mm got popular back in the 70's due to the light weight but with DSLR's and the lenses seem to have bulked back up, which has now lead up to the development of mirrorless cameras.

Robin Smith said...


I hate to state the obvious, but perhaps some of those no hopers with their cameras at PhotoPlus were actually taking pics of New York City - still one of the most exciting cities for taking photographs. What are they expected to do with their equipment - leave them at the (non-existant) left luggage offices?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Just wanted to respond to Shane. Thanks for your comment and your stand about the Rangefinder Forum. I appreciate your support!

But rather than diminish the article that nasty, old cuss who got all trenchant and pissy with his keyboard has actually driven a number of new readers to the Visual Science Lab. I'm sure this was NOT his intention but there it is. Now I have more people to talk to and share with. And he has fewer of the best people to irritate and scream to, "Get off my lawn!"

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I read the stuff over at RFF and I was amazed at how a straightforward article recommendation turned into a snide shit fest. Too bad, Bill Pierce is a nice guy and a good writer. Only takes one to piss in the well.

Unknown said...

hit the nail on the head… was at a camera expo yesterday and it was exactly as you described… predominantly 50 ish plus crowd with their bags or cameras with I'm sure the largest lens they had over their shoulders and i wondered why?? Your article put it all into perspective… I am downsizing from Canon to Olympus OMD which is perfect for all the things you have stated. Taking a look at images being posted through social media it is glaringly obvious that technical quality is becoming less important… hello "selfie" and being seen… It is a wonderful time to be a photographer indeed!!

craig john said...

Such a good read. Thanks for posting. I loved so many passages, but as I kept reading, the one thing I found this article was missing, is that "there is no one single art that encompasses everyone". The markets have split into many smaller segments. People have their own individual tastes, so it's impossible to shoe-horn everyone into one BIG GIGANTIC forward moving market. There are plenty of people in the younger generation that appreciate the beauty of the "old and nostalgic", even if it was "before their time". Not everyone is into the "now and beyond" for the sake of being "current". Then there are the "old guys" who ARE very much intrigued by the new and undiscovered. So in reality, there's plenty of room to go backwards, forwards, up, down, left and right. For the folks that like carrying around the perfected cameras, good on them. For those that like toting around the micro 4/3 cameras in their pockets because they're always accessible, good on them, too.

The golden age of photography wasn't 50 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years, not even 5 years ago. The golden age will always be in the now. And right now, there are more choices for individual styles, tastes and uses than there has ever been in the past. That's not just a good thing. That's a GREAT thing, and it means there is a camera out there for nearly every need, want and desire. Best of all, we don't have to be shoe-horned into one system anymore. And all I can say to that is, "Cool. No go do your thing your way". :)


Per Inge Oestmoen said...

It is an interesting discussion for sure. Let us have a look at the trend towards an alleged less emphasis on technical quality, why that apparent trend has emerged and what it means. Have the differences between lesser and higher quality disappeared? It is difficult to see that such is the case. Have they become insignificant? I do not believe that, but a crucial factor is that many people have never made an actual comparison.

The ubiquity of mobile phones and the ease with which the pictures can be distributed readily explains the impressive amount of pictures from phones on social media, but this part of the story does not say anything about whether the people using them would choose differently if they become aware of the very real disparities in quality that exist.

If quality for some people takes the back seat to immediacy, it is only because they have never compared their results to what can be obtained with quality tools. Ignorance is bliss, but the bliss only extends until it stops. And this particular kind of ignorance will last exactly as long as it takes for each person to experience true quality.

Social media? Yes, but try to scrutinize them closely. Even there we will see that those who have chosen to use serious cameras with good lenses consistently put out images with much more beautiful tonality, better structure and ultimately greater impact than what the mobile phone images offer. Even if the mobile cameras improve, the differential will remain since the larger sensors and high-quality lenses are significantly more capable. Remember, high technical quality has never detracted from the image's content and it is not going to do so in the future either. It is when creativity of content meets a proper technical execution that the best images are realized.

We only need to compare in order to appreciate that clearly. We would do our fellow photographers a great favor if we show them what better lenses and cameras can do.

Per Inge Oestmoen, Norway

Daryl-Hunter said...

I think that as the younger mature they will become more desirous of higher quality and better results. Phones and point and shoots have good results, but not great results. I once loved the spontaneity of an instamatic 110 camera until I tired of the crappy results.

Both demographics need to be marketed to, you don't ignore a demographic.

Stephen Sherman said...

I'm an old guy, so beware. But I know this much to be true.. it's not the tool but what one does with it that counts.
There where always guys toting camera's to shows burn really, what's the point? Who needs the heavy iron if your not going to use it. Owning an expensive toy makes you an "owner" nothing more.
I bring camera's, large and small to suit the occasion, not to impress. If it suits my needs by being an extension of my eye and brain, it's a tool that works.

i always laugh(to myself) when clients ask what cameras I use. To me, that's a sign that they just don't "get" it.
M 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Old guys always think it's coming back. It's gotta come back! How's that working out for LP Records? It's not exactly about quality versus quick it's a whole other aesthetic. Not sure they'll get that.

Dave said...

Fantastic post. I agree with 95% of it. I think you left out one piece of the puzzle though. Young people don't care so much about image quality because they view most everything via tiny phone screens. This period in imaging could be a minor footnote -- the era of the small display. Tiny phone screens suck. We use them because they are convenient and inexpensive. Some day display technology will change. We'll look at big pictures again -- bigger pictures than ever before. Imagine Google glass that can display what looks like a 80 inch HDTV floating in space. It's coming. The days of holding a tiny LCD in your hand are limited. We only like our smart phones because there is nothing better yet.

Unknown said...

I am 58. I am a commercial photographer who for a time worked in the Industrial Supply end of the craft. My sense of change is that it is feared by the insecure. Older guys who were wizards with fime denigrated digital capture because in it's infancy it was of poor quality. But they also didn't fully understand how to work with it and if they did, they were not prepared to replace all their gear and invest in computers. If you think about it there is a reason many of the tools in Adobe Photoshop resemble darkroom techniques and processes. It was necessary to enable people to transition to the digital workflow in terms they could relate to.

The Nikon Df camera in particular fills a space left empty when we all had to give up our film camera bodies and start working with cameras that had more in common with digital clocks and VCRs. It was difficult to get our heads around automatic focus, never mind changing exposure settings using wheels on the body instead of dials and rings. Still, we grew accustomed to it, and even came to appreciate the enhanced flexibility it afforded us.

Still though, we long for the days of our youth. And despite not being able to necessarily focus without autofocus because eyepiece diopters don't "go to 11" we still feel better when shooting with a camera that feels and handles like the ones we used when we were perhaps at our best creatively.

There is a place for this camera. It is not in the hands of anyone under 40, unless they are one of those kids shooting skateboarding with Super 8 film cameras.

And the window for it is closing, in maybe 20-30 years.

Depressing? You bet. But that is life. Why, in my day, an 80-200mm lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 was only an unrequited wish.

Looking around at what we can do with what is now available is the opposite of depressing. You only have to be unafraid of it. And remember where you put your glasses.

Brent Eades said...

What a good post, many astute observations. Yes, I'm that guy all right, past fifty and to be found with my trusty d700 and 24-70 2.8 over my shoulder at camera shows -- my 'walkaround' unit :)

And yes, I have certainly noticed that my companions at these shows are largely guys like me, grey-headed fixated on CAs and DXOMark scores and whatnot. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but we are surely just one little part of a much larger and sometimes mystifying photographic world.

I'm trying to keep up though. I find Instagram especially interesting -- a square frame, no manual controls, just shoot. Surprising how creative you can learn to be with so simple a paradigm. It's all good.

Anonymous said...

A sharp beautiful photo will astound a teen. It's not either or. Sony A7r is example of MF quality in small form...which is heading toward iphone camera.

Camera may not matter for many many photos, but still matters for many great photos.

Sid Raisch said...

Camera? What camera? In a few more years... the kids that are born today will only see camera's as museum display pieces, or something a collector is using. It's like an old Brownie is to us today.

The SHIFT may have been final recently when Burberry shot everything at their runway event on an iPhone5s.

Thanks for the insightful article, but you may be just a bit behind the curve still.


NancyP said...

Entertaining, but over-simplified, from my over-50 woman's point of view. Yes, the SLR as prestige object may be in its decline, but the SLR as tool is still going strong. I like a big bright real-time view with a good pentaprism, and I like holding a camera that has room for controls and has a comfortable grip and balance with a variety of lenses. Admittedly, my ergonomic standards date from the film SLR era. Tiny compacts are more pleasant to carry in a bag but less pleasant to hold and use. I added a grip/ L bracket (and an optical viewfinder) to my one mid-sized camera, Sigma DP2 Merrill, because the camera was too dinky and too slippery for my hands, and I like shooting from a tripod. I use traditional cameras when I want to craft an image, and for some technically demanding documentation photography. Phones: great for simple documentation and for sketching out ideas, wonderful for social media, great pocket play-back device. The phone, the DSLR, both are splendid tools for different purposes.

Unknown said...

There is an apocryphal story about Guttenberg, who upon showing his printed bible to a monk was told - "It's good. But it's not calligraphy".

Anonymous said...

The big picture is that new generations never hear good sounds, see nice print in a gallery, read literature anymore.

The lost the taste of good sophisticated quality of life by using smartphones, ipods.

The art, culture, technology strived by humans in thousands of years will decline for the sake of convenience, intimacy.

I think we are returning to primitive primates back.

Unknown said...

Such a thoughtful piece, Kirk, and It comes at a crucial moment for me.

I've been taking photography commissions as an iPhoneographer and some recent commissions have been so challenging that I've contemplated investing in a camera. I've had many over the years, but lately, well...

Let me explain why I took an early leap across the dark divide, back in 2009 and abandoned the camera for the iPhone.


I was covering motorsports for a client who had a strong fan-base. Sharing images was part of the buzz I needed to create. I could send a runner across to the media tent and hope that the race track connectivity could stand a gallery upload or - using a cellphone - upload crude images directly from the action. I chose the latter and the hits went through the roof.

From then on I decided to start a 365 project to improve my photographic skills with the iPhone.

That was four years ago and the 365 has become a respectable project that I publish daily ( @ftlauderdalesun) and has connected me to the best iPhone Photographers (sometimes called mobile photographers) across the globe and has also helped me get the best out of an increasingly impressive photographic computer.

My FtLauderdalesun project is entirely about 'sharing the moment' and I believe a lot of the Instagram appeal is exactly that. Sharing a moment that the shooter feels is worth sharing.

The fact of the matter is that the big glass camera didn't (and amazingly does not) connect. It has no immediacy.

This fact genuinely gets in the way of me putting down the iPhone and picking up one of those dinosaur bones with a Canon or a Nikon label on them.

Its not that I find camera limiting. It's that technically, well, they are irrelevant.

My photography isn't just about capturing the moment, its about sharing and communicating that moment.

Time, now, is the essence. And cameras are out of time.

Chris Archer said...

Thank you for publishing your insights Kirk. I think for the most part, you are spot on.

Ultimately, it seems as though viewers are most receptive to honest and emotive content conveyed in such a way whereas technical mastery supports the intention of the artist(s). UNLESS there are cute cats involved, or the piece is over x seconds long (could be an interesting study).

Also, a humorous tidbit to your apt analogy: As Galadriel states, only the elves who remain in middle earth fade into a "rustic folk of dell and cave". The parallels here are amusing to ponder.


Pamela Viola said...

Wow, Kirk, thank you! You have it so right. I too started in photography decades ago creating work in the classic style, but now have a solo show hanging of composite imagery created on an iPhone/iPad.

To paraphrase, mastery for mastery's sake often leads works that are devoid of any emotional context. Photography is indeed evolving again, as it has throughout its history, with personal storytelling rather than precise technique becoming its essential core.

photography Seattle said...

Nice one! I like the outfit of the characters. Wish i could do the same thing too but im not that techie.i like the outfit of “from farmer to warden”.. really interesting.

Richard said...

All very good points, but this is not new. There has always been and aways will be a subclass of photographer more interested in newer and newer, and more and more gear, than actually making an image. I worked in the industry in NYC during the 90's, and religiously attended the show. There was always this "class" of photographer in attendance, even then, and I came to understand it was nothing new. The photo vest just made them easier to spot. If you attended during the week, the working photographers are there; the weekend saw the amateurs, lugging their gear as proof of status.

Personally, I feel the "digital democratization" of photo has destroyed both commercial and art photography. There is no respect for craft, expertise or ability. You just have to have a concept, a glib tongue, and a gift for self-promotion.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Richard, I hope you read all the way through and understand that the anecdotal observation of the aging photographers was a small part of the article. There is much more to it than just a simple, "amateur versus pro" redux. I hope people are reading beyond the first paragraph...

Ron Scott, Photographer said...

Boy did your post ring true for me. I am a "gray" (probably more silver now) semi-retired self-unemployed pro. Just spent a few days in New Orleans. Took my Nikon D800 down there along with all the gear/rig to shoot video. After one day lugging all that stuff around I stashed in all in the hotel room safe and just walked around with my iPhone, shooting both video and stills. It will all wind up in a short video in a few days and I suspect nobody will be able to tell the difference between the D800 footage and the iPhone. As someone once said, the best camera for the job is the one you have with you. I am getting too old to lug around full-frame DSLR's just to get a little better bokeh. So I will be shooting more with my iPhone or little Panasonic Lumix and maybe even consider getting some Just For Men for my hair.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Ron. Creativity doesn't require a certain kind of gear, just a certain kind of mind (and heart). I've seen your work for years. It's always been great. Welcome.

http://www.heungman-photography.com/ said...

excellent analysis, won't even mind your anger at all... somehow i dislike technocrats showing their non-art work samples but realized that without them photography won't even arrived in our history.

i was a pro. i now enjoy on the road shoot and blog instantly with a phone-camera. http://motherearthsouthamerica.tumblr.com/ like you said, it's communication


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Jon said...

I picked up on this in photoeditor, and while I agree with undeniable and endless changes in technology, I disagree with what it means to photography, in the sense that it doesn't matter if you shot it with some sort of shitty pinhole thing, it is literally only the image that matters. While there is endless stuff turned out every minute, those of great vision like Avedon etc still stand head & shoulders over this mass primarily due to a deeper understanding through a great deal of work, thought and examination of what essentially makes an image memorable.
Endless discussions on technology will only move you away from the more important questions that heralded unmistakably ground-breaking and unforgettable images, which is fine by me, and appears a mark of how technology to my mind has held all it's converts to ransom, no matter which side of 50 you are.

Bob said...

Some great observations here Kirk. I didn't know about camera sales dropping off so steeply but I'm wondering if it's because the average consumer now has a tool (phone) that is "good enough" for their needs and not because the market for professionals is switching to lower res devices.

As far as "production values" go, I know that my corporate, architectural, interior design and editorial clients still expect clear sharp hi-res photos. I think you could say the same for other genres like fashion, beauty, food technical, aerials, macro, repro and probably some others. High quality imaging is not really just a nostalgia thing nor is it relegated to a few groups of "aging practitioners". For any photographer starting out in business today I would still recommend buying as good a dslr as they can afford. Of course you CAN get a great shot with a phone but you can also shoot with intimacy and immediacy with a good dslr. The trend towards that style is not exclusive to the low end of the equipment spectrum. Lighter, smaller, cheaper, yes please but still give me good res.

And really, throwing Stan Getz under the bus with waltzes and polkas? Let's not pander TOO much to pop culture. I still hear Metallica, The Beatles, Sinatra, Gershwin and Mozart on the radio and some of those guys are not just old, but they're dead! Just sayin'...

61 and staying current.

Anonymous said...

Taking good photos has never been about the gear. Not that it doesn't help, mind you. But all the Leica glass and large format backs in the world won't help you if you lack a creative and critical eye.

Age and generational gap will never change that.

best essay writing services said...

Very said.. Great article..

Tim in Singapore said...

My generation (I'm 66) will adopt the new technology more enthusiastically as soon as manufacturers take it as a default assumption that we cannot use an LCD screen without putting on, or taking off, or changing, our glasses.

There has been an air of unreality about the advanced amateur market for years. What percentage of users print larger than A4? How many print at all? Many of the capabilities of our high-end equipment are redundant in the hands of many (most?) users. Most of us who contribute to the forums enjoy conversations with like-minded people about the technical merits of this or that obscure lens, but it's a nerdy interest rather like train-spotting or the best kind of cartridge to use when playing vinyl LPs. Very enjoyable, and totally harmless. But not very interesting for non-club members.

Many of us (my age) don't want to focus on creativity. We like hardware. Many members of the younger generation don't know what hardware is. They have never built a radio, or changed a spark plug. Not surprisingly they don't engage naturally with aperture rings.

Peter Steiner said...



Great read!

Anonymous said...

Thumbnail pic
"Gloria. Cropped image from Samsung Galaxy NX camera. 60mm macro lens"
**softbox, lightstand, and strobe not included with phone

I'm trying so hard not to be angry/cynical about this article.
Content is king. Always has always will be.

I don't understand why he is hating on older people with nice DSLR's. He is equating tradition and craft with being elitist and out of date?

He is equating ease of use and automatic settings as creativity and genuineness? The cellphone camera as a tool to capture what the current generation wants?!

Why do 99% of cellphone pics look like snapshots... because they are. I don't use a plastic spork to carve a turkey. Different tools for different jobs.

Then he rambles on about young film makers who can't afford RED cameras should use more affordable equipment.... Wait a minute, weren't all those old guys with expensive gear dinosaurs?

Speaking of "content being king"... good luck capturing split second emotions of crucial moments (weddings, sports, ect.) with your camera phone.

Oh wait, you get harsh light selfies full of practiced self indulgent disingenuous smiles.

/end rant

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Dear Crazy, ranting, anonymous poster. Please re-read the article or have someone help you read it. You misunderstood.....Everything. Who is this "he" you refer to?

Anonymous said...

to the anonymous poster: It's not a phone. It's a camera. Content is king, that's the point of the article. Technical stuff like megapixels and noise are no longer that important. That's exactly what Tuck said in the article. He's not hating on old guys....he is an old guy. But he's smart enough to read the trends.

Lee McCurtayne said...

Kirk, I am one of "those people" yes in their 50's, and have watched with amazement at the zig zag technology we have been mustered into. I have also noticed that the new format, that is making such impact on DSLR sales obviously is the Iphone, primarily driven by this insatiable use of Face Book. Just have a look at how many truly atrocious group shots appear through Facebook, because it is instantly up loadable and in ones pocket!
I am afraid mums dads and grandparents are now using Facebook that much, that good photography is the real casualty.
cheers Lee

bob palmieri said...

Sorry I just came across this; it's really an excellently conceived and constructed piece. However, I feel compelled to present the following perspective.

In fact, pundits on both sides of the greybeard divide need to check themselves for rallying cries. The kids have way too much Holden Caulfield-like suspicion of well-executed images; they're afraid of being hustled by manipulative slickness. The other side of their coin shows a pathetic championing of loose, raw & messy visuals as badges of authenticity.

On the other hand, many greybeards are so defensive about being perceived as fossilized that they see acceptance of lower standards as being open & progressive.

As usual, there are tools for jobs; sometimes I love the sense of motion & temporality of the quick, dirty & tilted, sometimes the contrived arrangement of view-camera-style composition.

Somewhere in the middle ground I place situations like an architecture shoot I had last year. Just as I was about to grit my teeth & rent a medium-format rig with all of its accoutrements the D800 came into view. I was able to shoot static interiors literally hanging off of a balcony rail with one hand while shooting with a hand held DSLR in the other and get exactly the images I wanted.

Tomorrow I head to California (mostly Big Sur with some San Francisco thrown in) with the D800 in a backpack full of primes and a very small shoulder bag containing an M6 & NEX. I know I'll never feel like I wish I had anything else.

I don't care if I look like a greybeard fossil, I feel I'm best equipped to bring back the images that will have the maximum emotional impact for me.

Michael Robbins said...

Crikey, you are a compelling writer. I don't agree with the absolutist gist of the article but many aspects did resonate. I am wondering what has prompted this line of thought.

FWIW I believe that photography, like all media forms, is becoming a larger, but more fragmented, market. The sum is no less than before. There is room for the system users, for quality aficionados, for instanta_holics, for video geeks, for street and beat.

Photography isn't just art or reportage, it is more than ever a social mirror. What we are like, what we like, where we were, who were we with. Quality is a bonus but primarily in the respect that it adds to the "what we are like?" (we are artistic) aspect.

Teenagers do grow, develop more specialised hobbies, every generation more than the last. The leica myth continues to grow, not diminish.

Your analogy with music is telling works both ways. Vinyl remain, more than ever the choice for dj's. ancient jazz lp's are highly sought after for sampling. Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Thelonius Monk or Errol Garner riffs can be heard in just about any London club albeit modified. The masses dont know the origins of the tune but the music geeks do and THEY are the setters of style. They are well read, clever, motivated and, in their field "cultured".

Instagram uses filters to replicate old film styles, grain, scratches...its not that quality is disregarded, but it takes second place to a look. Quality itself has come to mean artificially good looking images rather than a true representation. Thats not cool.

My guess would be that of this of generation (of teenage boys) there will be easily enough geeks to keep the system camera alive. Not because of photography but because of gear, the lens, the collecting, the comparing. We all know how vicious the photo forums can be...that kind of passion isnt about to dissipate any time soon. In fact it is going to grow as more of our lives are removed from the basics of food and shelter....
I should stop. Enjoyed your post

Michael Robbins said...

Crikey you are a compelling writer. I don't agree with the absolutist gist of the article but many aspects did resonate. I am wondering what has prompted this line of thought.

FWIW I believe that photography, like all media forms, is becoming a larger, but more fragmented, market. The sum is no less than before. There is room for the system users, for quality aficionados, for instanta_holics, for video geeks, for street and beat.

Photography isn't just art or reportage, it is more than ever a social mirror. What we are like, what we like, where we were, who were we with. Quality is a bonus but primarily in the respect that it adds to the "what we are like?" (we are artistic) aspect.

Teenagers do grow, develop more specialised hobbies, every generation more than the last. The leica myth continues to grow, not diminish.

Your analogy with music is telling works both ways. Vinyl remain, more than ever the choice for dj's. ancient jazz lp's are highly sought after for sampling. Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Thelonius Monk or Errol Garner riffs can be heard in just about any London club albeit modified. The masses dont know the origins of the tune but the music geeks do and THEY are the setters of style. They are well read, clever, motivated and, in their field "cultured".

Instagram uses filters to replicate old film styles, grain, scratches...its not that quality is disregarded, but it takes second place to a look. Quality itself has come to mean artificially good looking images rather than a true representation. Thats not cool.

My guess would be that of this of generation (of teenage boys) there will be easily enough geeks to keep the system camera alive. Not because of photography but because of gear, the lens, the collecting, the comparing. We all know how vicious the photo forums can be...that kind of passion isnt about to dissipate any time soon. In fact it is going to grow as more of our lives are removed from the basics of food and shelter....
I should stop. Enjoyed your post

Anonymous said...

Not so sure here, I see lots of young photographers going into DSLR's with a passion and spending quite a lot of money at the same time.

It would be a mistake I think to try to narrow things into just one area, there are a lot more choices out there which is great. But DSLR's are not just for grey haired men

yes-we-xen said...

Hi Kirk, probably your BEST post EVER.
Suddenly I feel so guilty using my old 5D, fortunately there are also some PENs around :-)
But, You really got it. I'm also one of these 50+ men, allways lookung for the holy grail and willingly blind for the new market and the way photography is going "away" from what ist was some 30 years ago.So, the question is - now, that we know, what we are doing "wrong" - do we really want to do it "right" :-)

Keep on rockin'

Jeff said...

Great read and very similar to comments on a car site I frequent. Baby boomers want 60's muscle cars and newer generations want Subaru WRX's. The marketplace will eventually shift, just as minvan's replaced station wagons and SUV's took over minivan preference. The big dslr's will be around, just smaller percentage than their glory days.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "anonymous." I am 45, I learned about f-stops and "bokeh" and all that on manual-focus 35mm SLRs as a teenager, and quality matters. Anyone that thinks sharpness & technical image quality are irrelevant--they themselves are irrelevant, & lazy to boot.

REAL photography, I hope anyway, will not go away, it is very relevant. Just as people can make decent meals with Hamburger Helper but there's absolutely still a place for fine cuisine, so it should be with photography. A silly Instagram vintage filter slapped on a picture of someone's shoes recorded with a junky-quality phone-camera recording is not photography, I don't care what age or generation you come from. It's fast food & Kool-Aid masquerading as fine cuisine & fine wine, when it's nothing of the sort. I don't care if 30,000,000 people say otherwise, they're WRONG and need to stop sniffing the Crazy Glue.

Anonymous said...

So, let me get this straight. Traditional Technical values are critical, right? Everyone wants them. People would prefer the lighting on re-runs of Dynasty and the Beverly Hillbillies more than the lighting on House of Cards or Downton Abbey, right?

And people will demand the traditional lighting on movies from the 1960's in preference to the available light we see in lots of movies done in the present, right?

And..all people, given a choice, would rather drive a standard than an automatic, right?

And we still want film based X-rays and don't mind waiting for them. If we share our film based X-rays we do it by mail and we prefer that, right?

And Old Spice after shave will always be better than Axe.

No one will ever want special effects in movies (that's the corollary to "Too many people depend on post processing...")

I know where you are trying to go but believe me we now have whole generations that would find pizza and burgers better than any high dollar gourmet meal you might want to put in front of them. Just because you might like the foie gras better doesn't mean...... aw, you get it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if the last comment was for me, but let me say it--if a generation prefers pizza/burgers to real fine cuisine, I submit their taste isn't different, it's INFERIOR. Period. End of debate.

It isn't "just because you like so & so better makes it better"--rather, it IS better on the principal of it.

In other words, all else being equal, a sharp photo is better than a blurry photo. Quality NEVER goes out of style, it is not up for debate. Now if you are talking about a certain STYLE or LOOK, so be it, but to say that a blurry photo is better than a sharp one is like saying a stained dress is better than one that's been washed.

If the mass market is content with their inferior and dumbed-down taste of preferring pizza & burgers to fine cuisine, have at it, but don't interfere with my better and more highly refined pursuits of photos that actually have some decent QUALITY to them. Anyone that tries to make out like such is just a matter of what one considers important, frankly, has no taste whatsoever. May the market never cater to those dimwits.

Anonymous said...

Since you are an anonymous poster I can only presume that you were the previous anonymous poster so yes, the reply was for you. In a nutshell your last comment proved the thesis of the entire essay. Thanks for presenting yourself as the foil to the argument. May you gloat over your entree at the Olive Garden and look down your nose at the people dining across the street at McDonalds. The rest of us will understand that cameras long ago crossed the threshold into a realm where all the current interchangeable lens cameras are more than competent enough to do the deal and that styles change, tastes change and the tools change to match. Order a dinosaur burger for me and we'll commiserate.

jebwebb said...

Very interesting subject. I am 45, going on 46 and started out with my Dad's Nikon FmT. I graduated to a Nikon 6006 and when I got tired of the clumsy digital settings changes, I got an N70. From there, I moved up with the resolution changes and I'm at a D7100 now. But I still spend a lot of time composing and making sure the shots I take are technically accurate in camera, despite knowing I can take unlimited exposures for no extra cost.

Ironically, my dad, who turns 82 in a couple months snaps away with his Sony cybershot or his D3200 (that we got him for his 80th) like the world's going to end tomorrow. That was because of the digital shift. He used to print his own photos and was very conservative with his shots on film.

But he has run a daily photo blog for the last 11 years. And by daily, it is literally a daily blog with over 4645 shots. He manages to pull one shot for the current day and post it with a short comment. http://www.lelandreport.com (if you are interested). But at the end of the day, it's not whether you take 4 or 400 photos in a day, it's what you get out of the experience that counts and if you've somehow touched someone else in the process.

Anonymous said...

(jebwebb) Actually you have made my point, I say this respectfully. That is, despite it being the case that you can snap away unlimited, you actually take care to get it RIGHT somewhat. That is really what I'm getting it. I LOVE it that I don't to treat each shot like it's costing me an arm & a leg, it's very liberating, but I take that to mean I can feel free to photograph any event that I see vs having to run another errand to buy film & another errand to process it--with each errand costing me a decent chunk of change each time and with me having to ration how many shots I take to stay within a certain money framework or to avoid running out of film.

Still, I TRY at least to get them in focus & with accurate colors etc. I don't care how nice of an expression I got of my child--if it's blurry, I trash-can it. Period. Junk doesn't cut it with me.

And it's funny--when I read old magazine articles by the likes of Herbert Keppler, he would advise you to go through your collection and, despite any emotional attachment you may have to a given photo, to TRASH it if it is a blurred mess, because you shouldn't aspire to junk basically, that was how I understood it anyway. This was during a time when you PAID MONEY to get that shot, and he's STILL advising you to trash it if it doesn't measure up. I didn't read his more recent articles before he passed, but I doubt his advice changed, nor should it.

To me, I don't care what is "in style" or such, that sort of due care is ALWAYS relevant, and anyone who says it doesn't matter is irrelevant as far as photography opinions go, if you ask me. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to trash every shot that isn't pin-sharp, especially if you're a snapshooter, but not at least TRYING for a sharp shot is just plain sloppy & lazy.

So yes, I take personal offense when I see someone get a cute expression but it's a blurred mess and it has a HUGE orange color-cast to it, and people rave and rave about such a shot while poo-poo'ing a shot that also has a good expression but actually is in FOCUS and doesn't have weird color-casts to it. That isn't about a change in style, that's about not having any taste at all frankly. Simple & easy-to-use cameras are about "cameras for dummies," which is fine, I am NOT knocking that, there is absolutely a place for easy-to-use cameras and full-green auto modes etc--but preferring an inferior blurry shot & totally dismissing sharpness as not mattering at all is just plain dumb.

Our Daily Adventure said...

Kirk, I found myself today once again at Precision looking at the Fujis Xs and Olympus OMs with a peak at the Lumixs. Time to ditch my D600 and the 2.8 glass and move with the tide to the lighter funner mirroless cameras. Kinda like buying a computer IF you wait for the fastest and greatest you will never buy and you'll find yourself in the stooper two or three years from now. decisions, decisions.

Frank said...

Kirk: one of your best (cause it hits home)
>50; just bought a gh-3 and pan/leica 25mm f1.4 while staring at my 1ds andboth f2.8 L zooms: Have to sellthem to fund lenses for the gh-3 but I have a family wedding in the summer and I know and love my canons so. I believe the mirrorles IS the way forward; I need to cut the cord with confidence; been shooting an SLR since1977.

Unknown said...

Wow! Your Article really hit home with me. I've been a full time pro for 26 years, now at 53 I'm doing the "re invention" and it is painful. I could kick myself for letting so much pass me by while I was out doing my thing, making a living and satisfying my clients....Now those clients are passing their marketing decisions off to a younger crowd and guess what? Suddenly I'm "old school" and boring! Never saw that one coming. Just like I never thought I'd be shooting with plastic mono lights instead of Speedos and Profoto, or with plastic cameras and lenses. I'll make the transition, but like many of my publishing clients, I'm not seeing a profit model like I once had. So thank god we can now get away with cheap equipment...LOL

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