Clicking through life. One website at a time.

This image is for visual anchoring. It's a frame from the King and I, 
now playing at Zach Theatre. It was shot with a Panasonic GH4
and the wonderful 35-100mm X Vario lens.

Doesn't matter what I say or do, the steamroller just comes along and flattens everything down to the same level. Every day I get e-mail messages that guide me to sites. Some sites are touting medium format cameras. Invariably the images are of models or race cars. These images are all sharp and contrasty and grainless but uniformly safe and boring. One site shows me "new talent" (which means young photographers) that is selected by "anonymous" art buyers and editors but all the images look like they were shot by the same person. They're all casual lifestyle scenes that seem as though they were shot by someone who has never even see a lighting instrument, let alone read the instructions about how to turn one on. How many images of wandering millenials in quasi (dispassionate) love do we need to see? How unlit can an image be? Do we need to even recognize the person being portrayed?

I get e-mails guiding me to sites that tell me how to shoot models. But all the models are lit the same way and all of them seem to have gone through the same retouching car wash that scrubbed all the detail off their faces. Are we still at all even mildly amused by tattoos and piercings? Do all video cameras have to slide during every take? Help me, Jim Jarmusch!

Sometimes it makes me just want to put my camera down and go for yet another walk. To see what real people are out seeing and to see what real people, with lives and jobs and kids, are doing. How do people look when they are walking through their reality trying to balance a cellphone on one ear, a cup of coffee in one hand and a messenger bag in the other? What does beauty feel like for unattractive people? Can anyone pull off looking cool as they climb into their ten year old mini-van? Can anyone not look like a sociopath as they climb into a Ferrari at the grocery store? Do men really still wear gold chains around their necks in 2014? Are small children being parented while their parents look into the vague middle distance and chatter inanely on their phones.

I have other questions that vex me as I "learn" more about the "importance" of creating visual content for the cellphone screen. Here's one: Why do we give a crap about huge, wonderful video cameras or "4K" if 65% of the population will "enjoy" the content on the screen of a phone? Is there any correlation between the sheer, enormous, corpulent size of people and our new addiction to the web?

I thought of all this as I was taking images in a very high end tech company a few weeks ago. One person asked another if the web was systematically destroying all jobs. "No." replied the other, "technology has been doing that for a long time." They went on to discuss the recent protests by fast food workers. One person said to the other, "If they push this wage thing too far we'll just put an app on a bunch of iPads and automate the fast food front counters. People can handle ordering and paying for themselves..."

And, for a second I imagined that this would only flatten the finances of the poorest people, but someone else had just finished telling me about decision tree software for psychiatry that may be at least as effective as talk therapy performed by a psychiatrist/analyst. Most psychiatrist have long since been relegated to prescribing pills instead. This next step will allow their jobs to "migrate" down to trained nurses. And then we'll automate mental health care and what next?

What does any of this have to do with photography? Well, nothing and everything. A life that goes from screen to screen to screen. Perhaps photography is one of the things that actually makes people go outside and see for themselves. That's a start.


rexdeaver said...

Before Gutenberg, all books were manuscripts; copied by hand by people with the job title "scribe"

Before IBM, huge calculating jobs for astronomy, banking, insurance, finance, etc. were done by highly trained professionals with the job title "computer"

Smartphone apps don't just include sedentary ways to waste your time, but also apps for charting your runs, bicycle rides, planning hiking trips or wilderness photography safaris.

People have been bemoaning technology at least since Dutch weavers lobbed their wooden shoes into the new fangled mechanical looms, coining the word "sabotage." That was over 500 years ago.

It can be difficult having an historical perspective; it takes all the fun out of bitching about how good things used to be. :-)

unforcederror said...

I came to photography because I write fishing articles. I went to websites and forums to learn the craft of the photography. So far I have learned a couple of things:

'Image quality' is how much noise you can see (or not see) at ISO 6400. That number doubles every year.

To take decent portraits you need a full frame camera fitted with f1.4 lens.

More recently, you need 4K video to 'future-proof' the videos you take of your kids playing in the back yard.

howard said...

Kirk, your experiences and recounting of them within todays' world are spot on. Thankfully, your photography..portraits, in particular, is unique. That along with your viewpoints on equipment and
living a real life are some of the reasons your readers are back each day. Please continue.

Kirk Tuck said...

RexDeaver, So our society has withered to the point that we must have apps to tell us how and where to run, and how to ride a bike. You mistake the rise of machinery with the rise of something more pernicious but go ahead and swill the Kool-Aide, you'll feel better in a few minutes....

Anonymous said...

If it comes right down to it, this is the society that bought the pet rock

scott said...

"Is there any correlation between the sheer, enormous, corpulent size of people and our new addiction to the web?"

I doubt it. Here in San Francisco the tech obsession reaches its height, and almost everyone is slim. Only in the tourist areas does one see these enormous people we hear about. In fact the top three most fit cities are also the most tech obsessed:

The 2014 Fittest Cities in America:

1) Portland, OR
2) San Francisco, CA
3) Seattle, WA


Go figure.

typingtalker said...

Kirk asked, "Why do we give a crap about huge, wonderful video cameras or "4K" if 65% of the population will "enjoy" the content on the screen of a phone?"

Because 35% is still a lot of people.

In the days of Life Magazine and six newspapers in every big city, how many people earned a living making photographs? Is it possible that the same number of people (inflated for the growth in population) are making a living creating photographs not-for-phones?

Fashion still needs big pictures. Automobile manufacturers still need big pictures. Architects still need big pictures. Brides and Grooms still want a few big pictures to go with their video. Families still have a portrait done around the holidays. Mom and Dad get prints of their high school and college kids' graduation. It goes on and on.

Technology has expanded the market for photography (and other graphics) by adding small screens and large (really large) digital prints and electronic displays to the mix. And then there's video ...

People and companies that can afford it (and there are more who can today than there were 50 years ago) will pay for great pictures and terrific graphics. Those that can't or won't never could or would.

By the way, Boeing just published a two page spread showing a Lufthansa 747-8 in World Cup Soccer graphics returning the German champions from Brazil. I'll bet the original was not made with a small, mirror less camera.

Nick Davis said...

Another thoughtful post, Kirk. We seem to have the capacity to automate everything. Soon there will be no need for human beings . . .

theaterculture said...

Yet another way in which Karl Marx got it 100% right, and completely wrong at the same time. He predicted that automation would eventually eliminate work in the mid-19th century, but also predicted this would free us all to live how we want, "to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic." Turns out what automation mostly does is make a few people really, really well-off, a fair number of us decently-well-off if we're willing to scramble and work a lot of hours and get the skills to manage automation, and an awful lot of us stuck on a hamster wheel of existential anxiety soothed by quasi-automatic consumption of automated goods...

Kirk Tuck said...

Thank you Theaterculture, that's exactly my thought. Remember when Karl Marx declared that, "religion is the opiate of the masses."? In the last century I'm pretty sure that the "first world" replaced religion with television and I'm certain that in this century the rulers have replaced television with cellphones and "interactive connectivity." It's perfect because it gives the automatic users the illusion of having some control.... Remember the counter culture war cry to "Kill your TV"? Just replace TV with Cellphone.

Kirk Tuck said...

Scott, We've got a lot of fit people here in Austin but it's more a reflection of economic demographics. Wealthier people are statistically thinner and in better shape. This doesn't speak to some advantage of technology other than its ability to enrich a certain segment of the population while providing powerful opiates to the overwhelming masses who, in fact, use the same technology in their own day to day.