This photograph took time and effort to produce.
It was photographed on medium format black and white film.
The film was hand developed, Contact sheets were made. A large
print was made after many test prints, in our darkroom.
One version was colored by hand with transparent oil paints.
It was used during the run of a play at Live Oak Theater for promotion.
This image and A series in the same style, also hand-colored with
Marshall's Oils, was displayed in the lobby before, during and
after the run of the play. That was nearly 30 years ago.
It's still in my portfolio.
This photograph was taken in the spur of the moment, during a walk with two friends.
We all had our cameras with us and we came across this person on a bridge in
downtown Austin. I took the photograph in less than a minute. I spent two minutes
tweaking it in post and then used it as an illustration of Facebook.
By the end of the day it had been consumed.
By the end of the next day it was thousands of "page" down the
rabbit hole and never seen again. It's not in my portfolio and it
represents the new paradigm of images that are made to be
consumed in the moment rather than leveraged over time.
It's never been in my portfolio.
In a certain period here in the USA it was a practice among some parents, who caught their teenaged kids smoking cigarettes, to force the child to smoke the entire pack until they became sick. Physically ill. Puking their guts up.
The thought behind the punishment was to make the process of over-dosing on nicotine and tar so odious and uncomfortable that the child would never want to smoke again. It's a practice that seems aligned with the theory that a good way to "cure" addiction is to "hit bottom." I'd guess the practice grew out of animal studies using electric shock as a behavioral disincentive....
I'm not a therapist but I have a feeling that what's happening to classic photography right now falls into the same category: force feeding a society with so many images that, once there are other outlets for our attention, we'll never want to go back to Instagram, 500PX, or Facebook and look at photographs the same way we are right now --- never again.
As we are furloughed from our jobs, fearful of leaving our homes, and have watched all ten of the decent movies currently available on Netflix, we have devolved to clicking through online image galleries in the hopes of continually finding something new, interesting, titalating, shocking or alluring to keep our minds and imaginations occupied for the hour, half day, week, etc.
If statistics are accurate we, as a culture, are gorging ourselves on quickly made and instantly served visual fare. It's composed of photographs, meme graphics and super short movies that are made mostly to be instantly consumed by the viewer once. Only once. And then the assumption is that the viewer will move on to the next image that gets dumped into the vast bucket.
Most photographers of a certain age still identify "real" photography as being high resolution images that could (operative work = "could") find their way onto a print. An actual paper print. The potential to be printed also creates the assumption that the image, as realized by the printing, would have a life beyond the first and primary consumption. We'd want to come back to it and view it again and again.
The photographic print would exist over time rather than being consumed and discarded.
The same demographic imagines that print is still primary. That advertising even now consists of a hierarchy of media in which the primacy of the media is prioritized as follows: TV, then print (magazines and newspapers), then printed collateral (brochures) and then, grudgingly, the work seeps down to the online electronic marketplace of social media.
But just as the enforced isolation of the lockdowns are forcing people to make more and more use of social media and apps to work, entertain themselves, and connect, more and more advertisers (already bleeding budgets and customer engagement opportunities) are pulling back from more expensive and less promiscuous media and putting the bulk of their marketing efforts into media with the biggest reach and the lowest production costs. And all of that lives on the web. And it's done for very temporary consumption.
When you add in Zoom meetings, online education, and connection to family, I'd conservatively predict that most peoples' daily screen time (mandatory and otherwise) is doubling over that consumed just last year. When the virus is finally conquered and it's safe to go back to work and school and play I expect that people will become so conversant and inured to their screens that printed and displayed photos, as well as print in general, will seem...uncomfortable and odd. They will have lost their ability to fluidly, and at the same time, deeply immerse themselves in a media that once could count on continuing allure and staying power for its value.
At that point print in many forms will become distinctly a niche category of the arts. Supplanted by consumable screen images, short form screen video, and collages of electronic engagement. No one will remember how to sit quietly and look at one image for any amount of time. We will have fully evolved into beings with an attention span, for single, discrete images, displayed "off screen", of about 5 seconds. And three of those seconds will be spent trying to decide if it's okay to move on already...
So, what does this have to do with commercial photography? Oh, I'm sure being paid to make visual content will continue to be a profession but the requirements of clients will presage a realignment towards nothing but screen display-oriented materials. And, as part of that new regimen, the images and video will need to be constantly refreshed because that will be part of their new power of engagement. You have to keep looking so you can observe the change while it happens. You have to keep coming back to the site because you'll be infected with the fear of missing out.
This is nearly antithetical to the flow of our intentions as photographers that we developed over the last two decades. Even now the sought after cameras of our industry are still measured, in large part, by how much resolution and dynamic range they bring to the table. The underlying but false assumption is that the cameras are being engineered to meet the most stringent and prevalent use cases. That currently conforms to the idea that print is still "top of the heap." So Sony sells a number of A7iii cameras that deliver 24 megapixels of detail. The A7Riv was probably designed as a "specialist" camera and one that only a small subset of users would need and want to buy but it's selling briskly. And it is so obviously a camera that was engineered to make big, printable files.
The same holds true of product introductions from Canon, Nikon and Panasonic. Each maker leads with a flagship model that seems mostly aimed at the "idea" of producing very large printed pieces. At a time when even professional photographers seldom print more than 5% of their jobs in a year.
And 4K computer screens are approximately 8 megapixels. Your 60 megapixel camera would have to have its files reduced by over 700% just to fit on the screen... (downsampling? Yikes!).
At the end of the pandemic constraints here in the USA (the only market I can really watch with some certainty...) high end camera sales will have plummeted to near historic lows. The only glimmer of hope for real sales volume will be cameras that are purchased with the intention that they'll be used for video production. The Apple iPhone 12 will be launched and will be highly successful as an all around video and still camera. It will be joined by models from the other talented makers of smart phones.
Those cameras/phones will be surprisingly successful in the commercial space because they have been tightly designed to excel at exactly the only media that's growing and healthy --- the screens.
Once advertising agencies and marcom departments discard their last decade prejudices toward bespoke imaging tools the rationale for most camera used in production to be anything other than smart phones will fade away. It will take time but the writing is on the wall.
And, as I suggested ten years ago, the professional image maker of the present and future will be someone who can photograph and make video, edit video, take advantage of new venues for their products, and be multi-platform creative content providers. The idea of being a traditionalist with a sack of still cameras will seem quaint and old fashioned. It already does.
Given the need to constantly produce and publish fresh work the photographers of the future will probably work more often and on more diverse parts of projects. They'll be busy supplementing still images with video and vice versa. They'll be producing quick web properties that clients will use for hours, or a few days, at the most. And even though the fee structures will decline the photographers who are fully engaged with their clients over long periods of time will.......make it up on volume. Or more billable hours.
You can see the change already. Even on YouTube the influencers who were all the rage just a few years ago are experiencing fallow times. It used to be enough to sit at a desk, do a fancy introduction module and then stay stationary and drone on and on about a reviewable camera. You watched the review, the camera being reviewed was its own "B" roll and, if the camera still interested you by the end of the program you might click through a link for more information. And that click thru paid the V-logger some pocket change for making the review (if it was entertaining and pushed the product to a sale).
Now I watch YouTube and see photographers like Peter McKinnon who are more like contestants/hosts/actors. He's not operating a camera and he's not running sound; most likely he's in front of the camera(s) performing lifestyle events while tangentially using a product that needs to be marketed. He's become the actual product and his ability to accrue nearly 5 million viewers is the product.
To be successful he's had to become the writer, the producer and the star of a show about making images that speaks to the creation process as entertainment and now has "product placement" in the place of a traditional review. The production values are good. The pacing and flow are modern and plucky. But there's not even a whiff of the idea that he is dedicated to making images that must be printed. While he might offer prints his real product is the actual video and the real goal of the video is to drive people to buy expensive and overpriced cameras which will largely be used to create 1080p videos of cats. Or images of women, practicing what they think are their most seductive poses, which are destined to be dumped onto Instagram at 1600 px. in exchange for comments and heart emojis.
The real product in the near future will be the flow of work, not the finished piece of work. But don't despair, this is just my assessment of the commercial side of photography. As amateurs, hobbyists (I personally like: Enthusiasts) we can do photography however we please and present it in any form.
But I am beginning to see my printer as something...vestigial.