I probably think about photography too much. It comes from having been around it for so long and for taking such a deep dive into the field as both a hobbyist and a working commercial photographer. I have to say though, for the first time every, I'm feeling as though we've just gone through a monumental shift that more or less makes everything we know about the joy of photography largely irrelevant. Now, before you trot out the ole "bitter old loser" trope I have to quickly say that business is fine, we're making the mortgage, paying our taxing and still scraping together enough to pay for a private college education for our kid. In fact, in the context of this article I have to say that the change is relatively neutral for working photographers who are ready to diversify into tightly related fields; like video. We're still moving the boulder up the hill and the projects are mostly satisfying.
I'm writing more about the public, passionate, highly engaged and fun side of photography. What old timers would call, pure photography. After a decade that saw a massive plunge, by everyday people, into the hobby, the art and exhilaration of making photographs, I think the wave has finally washed up on the beach, seeped into the sand and evaporated. The phone-encumbered cameras have won and, in the process, have sucked the excitement out of the craft, replacing it with a sense of doing social media chores on a subconscious and vaguely peer driven checklist. The camera is no longer separate from the normal run of life but is part of the conversation enormous numbers of people carry on every minute of every day. Just as once cars were novel, fresh and exciting but now they are just a way to get somewhere while traffic and costs have sucked the remaining joy out of driving --- for the most part.
This seems to be how it goes for most people now:
See a sign with hours of operation on it. Snap sign, send to Bob. Get paper check. Take photograph of paper check, send to bank. Buy lunch. Snap lunch. Eat lunch. See wreck. Snap wreck. Share wreck on Facebook. Go to bar. Stand next to dorky guy with bad hat. Snap selfie. Share on Instagram. Go on vacation. Snap selfie at airport, at hotel, at monument, at powder room, at convenience store, at Target, at Burger King, etc. Dutifully upload into the humble brag section of Facebook so friends can pretend to burst with happiness for your circumstances. Go to work. Snap photo of cubicle. Upload with snarky message to Snapchat. Hope that conversations really do disappear.
The process of photography has become the same as driving a car, in rush hour, to your company's crowded parking lot and then circling for ten minutes to find a parking space. Photography has become the fast food lunch. We (collectively) no longer engage in the craft of it. We no longer linger over lovely images but quickly mine them for their fleeting social messages.
In one sense this is all an egalitarian delight. We've effectively brought the potential for self expression and global sharing to billions. If we could shake off the nationalist filters of Google, Facebook, et al and really look into the global stream we'd be able to look into the superficial constructs of other cultures. And, sadly, we might find that they are also just snapping selfies at lunch and documentation of the actuality of their vacations. In fact, the desire to endlessly share may actually be a cognitive virus that years ago went pandemic and curses us to an endless wave of nearly mindless uniformity.
It may be depressing but it's not like there is a viable alternative. We are subject to and surrendered to the tides of progress and "innovation;" both technical and social. This may be the new and current estimation of what photography is for a new generation of "practitioners."
I would say that this helps traditional photographers get a new grasp on markets for their wares because they are still the ones with cameras, lights and intention but the cameras on phone get relentlessly better and all of the foundational work that used to constitute "jobs" is gone. Replaced by a serviceable snap from the V.P. of Operation's cell phone.
The top tier of pros survive because they aren't selling a brew of technical experience; they are bundling skills with a point of view. A different vision. An amalgam of taste and style that can be elusive specifically because it is completely subjective and a product of one's life, existence, experience and understanding. We grow as artists or we die as dinosaurs.
And that brings into focus the fact that this blog is outliving it's usefulness. The number of people who care about gear is in decline and, frankly, if you need to look up a specification or comparison, this blog is a terrible place at which to do so.
My experiences in the realm of commercial photography and videography are leaking away relevance to the remaining photo-as-hobby culture members because the process of doing the business is highly removed now from just doing the hands-on work. It's always been true that less than 10% of our time is spent with a camera in hand and 90% of the time is spent marketing, networking, thinking, conjecturing, testing, and the general fodder of trying to keep out of the middle of the road. Out of the spaces where progress for the sake of progress casually runs on over our past, making it flatter than an armadillo that's met the unrelenting tires of an 18 wheeler.
I've watched other blog sites move from using affiliate links to make money to trying direct merchandizing to make money. It's all so boring and mercenary to me because so few people do it well and balance great content with the sales side of existence. I wanted to do the blog to build a sense of community and sharing but it's not working out that way as our idea (generationally) of what photography means to culture changes. Over the past few months the engagement seems to have been withdrawn. We can all sense the shift in our collective appreciation and joy in doing photography. We get that our friends and family don't really see a difference between what we do with our cameras and what they do with their phones. We've seen the same photo/meme repeated ad infinitum on Flickr, or Google+, or (bundled as a political message) on Facebook. The whole thing (taking, sharing, enjoying individual vision in photography) has moved on and we're a demographic resistant to embracing the change or abandoning our seminal learning in the craft.
I can't blame readers for the lack of engagement. The decline of interest is woven into the social subconscious at this point. Sharing information about gear, separated from its intended use, is silly. It's meaningless. Of course you can use a better camera for video than an RX10iii but that was never my point in writing about that camera. Of course you can figure out how to crop square after the fact but post processing into squares was not my goal in writing about the availability of different aspect ratios in cameras.
When I wrote about EVFs six years ago it wasn't to make the point that they were technically superior to other finders it was to mark and recognize a shift toward a technology that is wholesale transforming the camera as tool, right now. But most people just wanted to chime in and say how much they like looking through glass.
I'm not sure what I'll do going forward with the blog. I like the platform when I can use it to start discussions and poke holes in mindless convention. I like sharing my experiences with gear as a metaphor for embracing technical change. I'll think about it as I drive around Texas this week.
If you want to move from content guzzler to mindful collaborator you could take a few minutes out of your busy life to tell me what you think. Are we watching the Fall of the Roman Empire as it relates to photography? Will it be followed by the Dark Ages? Where does hope lie? Is the priesthood of photography part of the problem or ....... ? Can we ever learn how to use the Force again?
In the future will all images move? How can we share stuff in a more meaningful way than across the lousy laptop screens of the first world? Should we even give a fuck or just go watch Kai do another video about his bum and today's "exciting" camera?
I sure don't know the answers or I wouldn't be asking you!