Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
OR….Has the Selfie Stick Replaced the Tripod
I am giving a presentation at the upcoming Society for Photographic Education Regional Conference this coming November and before my talk would like to get some feedback about my topic from fellow photo educators, photographs and would be photographers.
Photography is still in its embryonic stage compared to other art forms like sculpture, architecture and painting. The art of painting goes back 40,000 + years. Northern Baroque artists like Jan Vermeer used the camera obscura to enhance the realism in their paintings and the great Renaissance artist and innovator Leonardo Da Vinci conceptualized the first camera and made drawings of a camera obscura device in his journals.
The camera principle goes back all the way to the ancient Chinese philosopher Mo Ti and Greek mathematicians Aristotle and Euclid who described a pinhole camera in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE.
The first patent for a photographic device goes back to 1839 when the Daguerreotype was officially invented. In its short history this medium has experienced many transformation. It has tried to emulate painting in its early days and then broke away from painting striving to find its own identity as a medium unto itself thanks to Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Stand and the photographers that broke away from Pictorialism.
Many of the compositional and lighting techniques used in photography come out of the art of painting. Techniques of lighting and posing are directly connected to great Renaissance and Baroque painters like Da Vinci and Rembrandt. Rembrandt lighting for example is used in professional portraiture to this day.
Photography has evolved from being the step-child of painting to becoming a unique and dynamic art form unto itself. The digital revolution has taken photography to a whole new technically sophisticated level and made this medium the most viable and relevant (in my view) of them all as we move forward in the 21st century.
However with that said with cell phone cameras being in the hands of just about everyone on the planet, I wonder if the medium is beginning to lose its heart and soul as far as expressive and intellectual content is concerned.
So it was said…Painting was Dead!
It is interesting to note that soon after the invention of the daguerreotype French history painter Paul Delaroche supposedly declared that PAINTING WAS DEAD! In some ways I suppose it was the beginning of the end for the art of painting – at least as a mode for representing external reality.
Photography does this so much better, faster and cheaper. Some artists in the late 1800’s were very intimidated by this new innovation called photography, yet some like Delacroix saw it as a new and powerful tool to help them make better paintings.
“Upon seeing his first daguerreotype, the painter Paul Delaroche declared, “From today painting is dead,” and Samuel F. B. Morse, an accomplished painter as well as the inventor of the telegraph, apparently agreed. Morse happened to be in Paris just as the daguerreotype craze was blooming, and he arranged to meet Daguerre on March 2 and 9 of 1839. Looking through a microscope at Daguerre’s plates, he was amazed to be able to read every letter of a street sign. It was, he said, “Rembrandt perfected.” (In one of fate’s cruel twists, Daguerre’s Diorama was burning to the ground even as this meeting was going on.)”
As most students of photo history know….early on photographers like the Pictorialists tried to make photographs that emulated painting. These timeless photographs were taken with soft focus, used genre themes and tended to be painterly.
One thing is certain…once photography was accepted in the mainstream of society we start to notice painters (Impressionists especially) breaking away from pure realism and exploring more expressive, conceptual and abstract realms in their art.
It seems weird to me that we have more and more communication tools (cell phones, IPads, Laptops) than ever before, however these new and powerful tools seem to be keeping us from truly SEEING, FEELING and translating (capturing) and truly connecting with the world around us photographically.
According to Stuart Jeffries article in The Guardian, “People taking photographs of their food in a restaurant instead of eating it,” says Olmos. “People taking photographs of the Mona Lisa instead of looking at it. I think the iPhone is taking people away from their experiences.”
Just because you’ve got a microprocessor in your computer doesn’t make you a writer. And just because you’ve got an Instagram app on your phone you aren’t a great photographer.”
So my question to you all is…..Is Photography Dying?
I’ve heard many times from my commercial photography colleagues. Professional photographers are finding it more difficult to compete and get viable photography jobs because so many potential clients now believe they can “do it themselves” or have friends take the pictures with their digital cameras and IPhones.
It seems photography is turning itself inward instead of outward as to the primary reasons behind the capturing of images. You can’t go anywhere without seeing people pulling out selfie sticks and taking pictures of themselves in front of famous attractions, museums, parks and special events like weddings and reunions.
So I am wondering if photography is losing its soul?
One thing that strikes me in looking at much of the photography being exhibited and shared in Eastern Europe for example is how devoid of emotion and soul much of it seems to be. I must admit, I did see some great and unique work in Bratislava and Vienna recently, however a lot of it seems void of emotion and expressive content. It seems there’s an emotional disconnect or distance between the photographer and the subject being photographed in contemporary photography. Again…this is my personal observation.Many pictures I suppose are technically sound – however many of the images I’ve seen exhibited lately are sterile, distant and cold.
I’m not judging the quality or content of the images – just how they speak to me. When I look at the work of great photographers from the past such as Stieglitz, Strand, Weston, Henri Cartier–Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Jacques Henri Lartigue or even Man Ray, their work connects with me intellectually and emotionally. These photographers were exploring a wide range of issues and infused their photographs with empathy, emotion and passion for their subjects.
This famous FSA photograph Migrant Mother by Lange is a good example of a photograph that has visual and emotional impact, in addition to having universal appeal.
However…when I view a series of totally black photographs or a yellow blob with no recognizable content whatsoever, I don’t relate or get anything from the work other than a hopeless, empty / detached feeling. Again I’m not judging the black photographs, Xerox printouts or the pictures of stacks of cardboard boxes. I’m just pointing out that there’s something distant and emotionally neutral about a lot of the photography I have been seeing lately.
I see the selfie stick approach to image making in much the same way. Just empty superficial pictures for the most part.
Ok…who am I to say they are superficial because to the couple standing in front of the Mona Lisa taking that selfie stick photo, I suppose it means something important to them. I do wonder if they actually experienced the painting itself or just the act of photographing themselves in front of it.
“The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.” – Ansel Adams
So I pose some questions for all you photographers out there.
2. Are cell phone cameras contributing to the demise of photography or just the next phase of its evolution as a creative medium?
3. Is professional photography still a viable career choice considering how more and more people have the basic equipment to take photographs and are choosing not to hire professionals?
4. Is photography losing its soul?
5. Where do you see photography 10 – 20 years from now?
Please post comments directly on the blog post! All comments are welcome.