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Thursday, 04 January 2018


Hi Mike,
Today I was at the hardware store and saw someone taking pictures of some items with a cell phone. Does that count as photography?

This year, for the first time ever, at familly gatherings on Christmas day and New Year's day, I did not see one camera. Instead, people were taking pictures with tablets and cell phones.

The question: Is it photography only when a dedicated camera is used?

Titles like "The Death of Photography" always make me laugh because the phrase is so broad as to be practically meaningless. One might as well write an essay on the death of walking, the bicycle, or eating red meat. It's not like I would see the title and say to myself, "Photography is dead? Damn, I guess I'd better find something else to do with my time."

The implication being that selfies and smartphones do not photographers make. I argued that once, in an online forum, and got jumped on.

A lot of street photography does require conscious thought (as well as a lot of concious walking).

Yep, bought a Deardorff in '72 for $200.00. Sold it to a grad assistant not long after as I proved to myself that I didn't have the right psychological makeup to commit to that, wanting to be more of a "Blow Up" kind of photog-as many of us did then. Said grad assistant went on to make some great photographs with it and ultimately became head of one of the great photo departments in a big university-so I have always felt at least vicariously successful-talk about a stretch. Good article-as always. Thanks

I sort of agree with the main thrust of the article, skipping over some obvious holes (he apparently dislikes Cartier-Bresson, Winograd, Maier, and the rest of their talentless ilk, the street photographers.) (Okay, that's not what he said, but I would venture to say he doesn't care for street.)

I personally believe that photography was chugging along with about as many "great" photographers as there are "great" performers in any of the other art forms, perhaps as many as a couple of dozen at any one time, worldwide, until...The Seminal Moment, with an emphasis on the semen. That is, the moment in 1967 (?) in the movie Blow Up when the hip young photographer, driver of a Silver Cloud III convertible, rolled up a couple of naked teenage models in seamless paper with a quick flash of something *going on down there,* and all over America, somewhat talentless but yearning young men slapped themselves on the forehead and thought, "Oh, my God, I can become hip and roll up naked chicks in seamless and see actual pubic hair if I get a camera!"

In the meantime, the talented, thoughtful people went on shooting.

Then cell phonea arrived, and (almost literally) everybody in the world was shooting and everybody had a camera all the time. Given that, and the sorting facility provided by social media, a few great photos surface virtually every day, just as if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of word processors, one of them would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. But that one lucky monkey couldn't do it a second time; his second effort would be gibberish. Great photographers take a pretty nice batch of great photos, not just one. The fact that great photos occasionally surface on the Net, as they do, is a product of numbers, not talent.

IN the meantime, the talented continue puttering along, kicking out a great photo every couple of years. Maybe.

And, I gotta say, that's a pretty great cat photo in the referenced article. I wish I'd taken it.

The democratization of the technical aspects of photography (from Kodak’s “You push the button and we’ll do the rest” to iPhones and the software of your choice) has in fact hindered the recognition and appreciation of the true nature of photography in a way that hasn’t, and probably never will, happen in most other creative endeavors.

Operating a camera has always been conflated with making a photograph, in a way that operating a typewriter will never be confused with writing a poem, or an essay, or a novel.

Some of us learned this a long time ago, “working quietly and being ignored“, and enjoying every edifying minute of it.

I would summarize it a bit more succinctly: "in the digital age, vernacular photography became more polished but remained largely naive and unsophisticated."

With serious photography the viewer needs to also notice what the photographer saw to really "get it." That's the beauty of it, photography's ability to expand our vision once you do. This means it requires something of us. This also means that the audience is primarily other photographers.

It’s not just photography. The average person recognizes that Jimi Hendrix was a great guitar player but only other guitarists worship him. They literally hear in the music things the casual listener does not.

I think this piece has a kernel of truth in it, which is that the media narrative around X (for whatever X is) tends to be driven by a lot of straw man arguments and lack of understanding.

But, I find the rest of the piece overall to be spouting its own false narrative in the service of tearing down its own straw man.

I think one can point out that the technological and media bubble around digital photography in the last 15 years was bound to collapse without also, as this piece does, without sneering at an entire population of camera users as "techies who never gave a crap anything important anyway". But I think this piece is doing some sneering and I think that weakens its position by a fair bit.

Certainly there were and are people who were into it all for the toys and the false external kudos, but this has also always been a part of the history of photography. I mean, where would Leica be without rich people who liked camera-shaped jewelery? (Zing! Sorry).

But, in this period there were also people who used the new tools to do things only the new tools can do. And this piece seems to write those people off too. But maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Anyway, photography isn't dead ... it's where it's always been, right there if you want to do it. Maybe that's the point the writer was trying to make. I just disagree with the angle he/she took to get there.

Thanks for the post, Mike, as well as your comments. I should add here to John Camp that I actually care quite a bit about street photography, am a fan of HCB, Winogrand et al, and have loved Maier since John Maloof came into a flickr group I administer and asked what he should do with all these pictures he'd found. I think from your comment that we're actually in agreement about most of this stuff. And for the folks who think I'm being somewhat flippant, well, my aim was not exactly for reverence with this piece (even psu could not resist that zing! heh). In any case, I appreciate all the thoughts and comments on this little piece.

This was an interesting article that got me to think. The problem is photography is not defined, so what is dead. More photos are still uploaded each year, than previously shot. Is wet plate dead, well no Mike even gets images from users and not everyone in the world reads this site. Specific camera types aren't even dead. What I think it comes down to is really clicks. You need clicks you use dramatic language. People use common buzz words to get people to read. So nothing is dead, except maybe blogging and youtube video feeds are slowing down and to get more clicks, more locked on eye balls terms get more dramatic. The blogging vlogging fad may be winding down. But people are still photographing, at the drug store, in the car and on the street.

Perhaps reports ofthe death of film, too, are exaggerated.

I was walking down the street just a couple of days ago, here in Singapore, when I walked past a typical photo minilab.
I had walked on several paces before I did a double-take and walked back to take a look.

In the window were displayed hundreds of boxes of 35mm film of various types, along with a transparent bin of empty film cartridges, a sight so familiar until 20 years ago that my mind didn't register the incongruity of the sight in 2018.

Maybe, just as vinyl records did , film photography is making enough of a comeback that a lab like that has sprung up, once again.


There is a snob element to many endeavors, photography maybe more than most. "Serious photography", "dedicated photographers", "actual photography vs social media". Reminds me of how surgery is rated: major surgery is when it happens to me; minor surgery happens to other people. So "serious photography" must be what I, and the photographers I like and admire do. Everything else is just bourgeois crap.

Maybe one day we'll all get back to just enjoying making photographs without feeling the need to justify and defend the "seriousness" of the kind of photos we like to make. Or the equipment with which we made them.

Great article, which in many ways sums up how I feel about the current state of photography. Street photography is very fashionable at present, but most of it seems to me to be beyond bad, very often simply people walking down the street and nothing to do with what the likes of Cartier-Bresson, Henry Wessel and Maier produced. Please don't even begin to get me started on current documentary photography where it seems the subject matter always trumps any attempt at composition or art these days. I don't see why it can't be both art and address social concerns but perhaps that's just me! Well John, "Blow Up" is a masterpiece of 20th century film making so it is unsurprising that each generation took from it what they wanted to see, like all great works of art. What I love about the film is the brilliant way in which Antonioni recognised where the liberal 60s were heading into a miasma of drugs and self indulgence, not to ignore of course that age old literary theme of appearance and reality. So thanks once again to T.C. Lin for stirring me out of my torpor!

Having become somewhat (make that more than "somewhat") disillusioned by recent trends in the art, it's heartening to see such thoughts expressed so succinctly. From a member of that small, largely ignored niche, many thanks TC.

It does start with a very nice picture of a cat!

One difference between a good photographer and a great one is a full trash can.

Another perspective from a different room in the big “house” (that Mike claims photography to be): a 2010 SFMoMA symposium

Nobody left the event with a linty navel.

If this 'Death of Photography' were intended in the same vein as M. Foucault's 'Death of Man', or 'Death of the Subject', then it might be taken to refer to the demise of a single canonical Photography as many different, but equally legitimate, alternative photographies emerge. That would be fine by me, but not perhaps to the cadre of huge antique camera wielding purists who seem to be disproportionately favoured by galleries? :)

" You can read it, it's not too long!

Was this addressed to those of us with attention spans that have been compromised by the next, great Internet thing that I can't wait to click on?

Interesting article. I think I agree as well and the skateboarding mention was hilarious. I also like the line, "..conveying complex emotion in one small frame". Very nice.

It seems to come down to the consumer world converging on the professional during a spasm of development in imaging that tied in nicely with the intrusion of the web into our lives. The consumer world morphed from point and shoot to high tech digital to cell phones and the professionals will remain "behind", reveling in the high tech digital and all its great advancements.

I think everyone benefits in the end. The connectivity of the web can only make the arts better for that same small circle of artists and art patrons while the Mega-Business side of the web will continue it's addictive march, consuming as much anxiously provided disposable content as possible.

"Always remember the asymptote" - Henry Standing Bear (Longmire)

Excuse me, but, I have been using Photoshop since version 3. I am proud to say that I an fluent in about 10% of it’s capabilities. So......where is that Living Hell slider?!?

Photography has never been more vibrant ...ever. One can play with a wide variety of cameras, media and print work....mix and match to one’s heart content in the pursuit of great work.
Each of the more important photographers in the last century pushed themselves and us into new views by pushing forward, mostly with new technology.
I do hear though, there are a few true photographers out there, dragging their daguerreotype gear around on horsedrawn wagons. 😉✨

@John Camp - as I was reading these comments, I was thinking "where has John Camp been?" And then, there you were. Your comment about numbers and monkeys is perfect! Big smile. Thanks!

Being a photographer is not the same as taking pictures, any more than being a writer is the same thing as posting one's status on Facebook, or launching a tweet.

Both may require the same skills and use the same tools, but they differ in intent. One is a means to an end, the other is an end in itself.

Camera phones won't kill photography any more than word-processors killed the novel. But how many novelists do you actually know?

Hard decisions for sure. Life happens and how we deal with it is what defines us. Congratulations on your choices.

I've got so many areas for improvement, the problem hasn't ever been finding one, it's been picking one. This year however, was easy. My granddaughter, on her own and out of the blue stopped eating meat and started focusing on whole plant.

It was while trying to understand where she was coming from, that I came to the conclusion that it was something I needed to do as well and I thank her for that. For me, the evidence was overwhelming and to ignore it just didn't make sense. Thanks for your referral to the "4Leaf Guide" by the way, it's a great resource and one of many that paint an unbelievable picture of the failures in our food industry.

So my resolution(s). 1) Understand nutrition and 2) implement a whole food, plant based diet. I'm older now but hopefully eating better will buy me a few more years to tackle the other items on my "to do better" list. That would be amazing considering how many there are though.

While I agree with much of what Lin says, he's ignoring the way that all of photography is interconnected.

Yes, the serious practitioner working quietly away has been here for 150 years and will no doubt be here in another 150. Yes, there are various fads and ups and downs and so on. And, yes, they're different things.

To claim that they do not impinge upon one another, though, is wrong. Instagram has changed, in not easily quantifiable ways, the way humanity in general looks at pictures. Just because you're quietly laboring away making platinum prints of landscapes does not mean that the rise, and presumably the fall, of the selfie do not matter to you. Anyone who looks at your landscapes has a bunch of stuff filed away in their brain under "photography" and your landscapes will be in there too, interacting.

What it means, we do not know at this point. It is, I think, for wiser heads than mine to work out. But these things are interconnected. Art, whatever else it may be, is certainly a social construct. Where society's collective head is at, it matters.

Better late than never. Read the article and it’s been lolling around in the back of my mind. And then I read this article this evening. Very similar topic, but from a different perspective. Now I think I get it :)

@ BruceK

I am sending my positive thoughts, prayers, and energy your way and wish you strength and success in your battle against cancer.

[I second that Bruce. I was dismayed to hear you are still dealing with this. My thoughts also go out to Chris Richards. I wish you both the best. --Mike]

Well written and interesting article.

To me, and my strange sense of humor, the funniest thing about that article was that at the end, you could click "like."

"To me, and my strange sense of humor, the funniest thing about that article was that at the end, you could click "like."

Funny or sad. Maybe that is simply luddite of me, or does a "like" have a bitcoin value?

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