I keep thinking of the 1890s. And no, to you younger readers, I wasn't around then. This post is not about nostalgia for the days of my youth.
So...why? Well, there was a camera craze in the 1890s. Previously, photography had mostly been accomplished by cameras held up on three sticks, by people who were initiates in the arcane arts of developing and printing; this took dedication and resources, and such devotees were relatively rare. The "hand-camera craze" of the 1890s was inaugurated by the advent of the Kodak in 1888; suddenly, everyone was taking pictures. Photography had suddenly become much easier, and much more widely and readily available. (Remind you of anything?) It's estimated that a million and a half Kodaks had found their way into the nation's hands by 1898—and there were just about a quarter as many people in the U.S.A. then as now. You did have to be moderately well-off to play. But it was the newest and latest technology, a modern contrivance, a modern convenience, and lots of people wanted to participate.
What I've been wondering is whether we might not be smack in the middle (or maybe just a little toward the end) of just such a craze right now. Maybe, just maybe, the frenzied market for ever-improving digital cameras, the uploading of vast numbers of snapshots to the Internet, the huge influx of newcomers to the hobby, is all a phase, a fad—a craze. Maybe future photo historians will look back on this period and have a nice neat name for it, like, I don't know, the Megapixel Race or the Y2K Digicam Craze or some other nice name that ties the phenomenon up with a bow.
We humans have a touching way of assuming that everything is progress and that all progress is permanent—that all is upswell, and the swelled-up state is the way it's going to be from now on, forevermore. But I don't know. Maybe this is a wave—a rogue wave—and once it passes it'll be gone.
Just a thought.
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Gregory May: "One of my favorite quotes, from Alfred Stieglitz: 'Photography is a fad well-nigh on its last legs, thanks principally to the bicycle craze.'"