Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Morning Thanks--Digital photography

Lake Michigan shore line at dawn. J. C. Schaap*
"It’s really weird … Photography has never been so popular, but it’s getting destroyed. There have never been so many photographs taken, but photography is dying.” That's how award-winning Mexican photographer Antonio Olmos somewhat hesitatingly notes the seeming strangulation of professional photography at the hands of amateurs with digitals. 

Today gadzillions of people carry cameras every waking hour, cameras whose quality few could have afforded a decade ago. There may well be more pictures taken every hour at this moment than there were in the entire 19th century. Once upon a time a photographer had to lug a huge wooden box on a gangling tripod, cover his viewfinder with some kind of oil cloth, then create exposures on glass that had to be "developed" with a pungent mix of exotic chemicals. 
Princess Angeline. Edward Curtis**

I'm not making this up.

When Edward S. Curtis did his monumental study of Native people, The North American Indian, the task required mules and mule-like staff. The photographs Curtis recorded remain astounding, but, any high school kid with an iphone packs vastly better technology. 

Digital photography has created millions of photographers, me among 'em.

What to make of it? Good question. 

If you were, pre-digital age, a pro, almost inevitably you're suffering. There are as many jobs around as there ever were--every business needs ads, of course--but ridiculously good cameras these days are incredibly cheap. Ordinary people have them. Ordinary people can shoot ads. As well? No. But a penny saved is a penny-earned.

And there ain't no film!--nothing to process and often nothing to print. Most pictures taken today never never see paper. So if a million monkeys wielding a million iphones take shots 24/7, one of those images is going to look a heckuva lot like an Ansel Adams.

So, "What do you think? Do amateur photographers pose a threat to the future success of professional photography?" asks Hannah Frazier in Vantage. It seems to me the answer is as simple as it is complex. 

Without a doubt amateur photographers pose a threat to pros. Today there are millions of film makers too, since every last iphone can also shoot movies. Today there are millions of writers since publishing a book, the technology, is incredibly cheap. Technology has created more photographers, filmmakers, writers, and musicians than the world has seen through all of its history. In some rare cases it's made them professionals; after Fifty Shades of Gray, a woman named E. L. James will never have to work again--and that racy novel started when she tossed the thing up on-line, free to readers. 

Every year I get two or three questions from people who think they have an story that will make a book. Look, I tell them, publication is almost impossible these days because it's so incredibly easy. Between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published every year in this country, well over 200 per day. Lock a score of bibliophiles in a library and even they'd have trouble keeping up. Publication is cheap, and we're rich. That's the bottom line.

Pros feel the pressure, I'm sure. Meanwhile, millions of people are writing, composing music, making movies, and taking pictures--and loving it. In the last 15 years I've taken thousands of pictures and made a couple of bucks now and then. That's it. The internet is full of blogs, more every minute.

I didn't start taking pictures or creating a blog thinking someday I'd be professional. I started shooting pics because it was fun, a joy, and photography has been teaching me how to see, what to look at, where to find beauty that makes music in the soul. 

Hannah Frazier's question has a simple answer. Yes, without a doubt digital photography threatens the pros. 

But is photography dying? Heavens no. To those of us not threatened, the new world has been a joy, a blessing.
*It's not the first landscape I took with a digital camera, but it's the first one I could find in the storage vault, a gorgeous morning I remember well, a blessing to be out at dawn--December 26, 2002, just east of Oostburg, Wisconsin. 

**The first image Curtis created in the series that turned into his life's work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll bet the picture was taken "straight-down". Right?