What it means to work in photography as a medium…

In today’s world of always connected, always on of the digitized world it is no surprise that digital imagery at the consumer level has once more bled into the realm normally reserved for the “professional”. In a field where it was normally prohibitively expensive and only available to those willing to invest a lot of time and money into their craft, people’s access to digital cameras has helped to open the world of photography to a whole new demographic that wouldn’t normally have access to or use of the medium. This coupled with the integration of camera phones and social networking websites, the openness and availability of images has made it accessible to virtually anyone able to afford a cell phone.

While some camera phones are better than others with regards to picture size (i.e. megapixels) they share one major flaw – a sensor that is extremely small. What this means in terms of quality is that they are more prone to noise and operate fairly poor in low light conditions. This leads to images with low contrast, blurry or out of focus images, and an inability to have good light separation between tones.  While camera phones may have replaced smaller, less expensive film cameras – they still lack the ability to capture hue, saturation, or brightness that are capable of higher end digital or film cameras.  Simply put, their larger surface area of the film in medium or large format cameras allows them to capture more light than the smaller sensors offered on camera phones or low-end digital cameras.  What this means to the consumer is an image that is instantly accessible and easy to share but lacks many qualities that even the simplest of film cameras offered – clarity.  What has been left in the wake of this revolution in imaging is that photography has lost a bit of its soul, its je ne sais quoi.   The limiting factor is no longer the number of frames that remain but how much space is left on the memory card. Even this conundrum is easily solved by moving those images to fixed media (e.g. CD, hard disk, et al).

All of this culminates in function, or the intent of the images. By function I implying that imagery has gone from a medium where involvement was considered well in advance to one where it is simply a shutter click away.  There might be some criticism here with how I suggest that many professional and family photographers are less intent on purpose in planning what or how they will capture an image.  I suggest consider this – you receive a film camera with a set number of frames, let’s say 24 and this is all you have.  Compare this to a digital camera than has a nearly endless amount of storage space.  Now suppose you had to make the difficult decision between capturing an image of you and your friends in front a monument or taking pictures of the scenery and the entire time not knowing if you nailed the image or if picture was under exposed or blurry.  With today’s technology this would rarely if ever happen.  One simply reviews the image before moving on, deletes, recompose and experiments to ones content.

Evolution or de-evolution…?

All of this leaves one asking, if even a fraction of this is true then where does this leave those of us that use photography.  Many of those  that use cameras for everyday life events from a pretty sunset to photographing your food at a restaurant and posting it to Pintrest I hesitate to guess not very much will change.  For these people it will still be a way to share the world at a moments notice.  For those that use cameras part-time  in a professional capacity I think more might change for they are by far chasing technology, new gimmicks, or styles of imagery to attract new clients.  While those that see past the technology and first ask the question, “What is it that I want to share…?” that often the prompts, “How do I want to share that vision with the world?”  For those working with this approach, it is less about technology or imitating others styles – rather it is about finding a vision that conveys ones artistic approach no matter which construct that one employs.

Perhaps what is more important  for all of us that use photography is that we find a use that is unique.  The intent we employ whether one is aware of it or not, is one that is carried through in the imagery from start to finish.  Whether it is framing of an image, or how we use focus and depth of field, or what we choose to include in the image.   Many of us make conscious choices, albeit without an active involvement, but they still are present. When one considers all elements in the imagery and considers all aspects of what will be framed in the image.  How far one is involved actively in those choices begins the construct of an artistic approach.

This may be far from being evolutionary, however it is the first step to being actively involved in what it is that one captures.  Once one takes that first step they move across the line of being passive and becoming actively involved in what they do with the creative choices they make.  New technology will always arrive that looks to supplant what came before it or create new transitive methods.  As Polaroid is to film, so too is digital and as time will prove, this too will find itself replaced by the newest technology.  What I feel is important that we embrace new technology and use it, but do so by being aware of why we use a particular piece of equipment and what it is we wish to convey to others.   At the same time, embracing the techniques and technology of from past generations that force one to slow down isn’t a bad thing if it places life on pause, if for just a moment, and dream of new ideas and worlds and create new constructs.