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Tuesday, 04 February 2020

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Given what we are witnessing (or not) in Iowa right now, I'd say expertise is still very much needed, but it's not currently valued properly and we are suffering for that. Epic failures ensue.
I just looked through one of my little vacation photo books I made a few years ago and it was very much an object, a pretty little book of 4 x 6 prints with a couple coffee stains on some pages. Perhaps creating our objects, like nurturing and ensuring our expertise, being somewhat optional, can lead to a feeling of creative poverty, especially in this somewhat frantic "early internet" period of human history. In some ways this was always the case. We always had families that took almost no photos, and had almost no books in the house. We've always had disasters brought upon us by incompetence and fraud. And we've always had (and still have) the ability to create both astounding beauty and expertly designed systems that represent real collective progress.

At the moment I am composing a blog in my head about the state of writing, since I just read a book that talks about reading as it used to be done in the print world, and as it now appears to be done in the digital internet world. Let's just say there are substantial differences, and what you say echoes the book. (Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf, if it's ok to mention it.)

I'm fairly new to photography, or rather serious photography with what I called a 'real' camera until recently. When I see photos from the new phones I'm just amazed. Now I tell people that are thinking about getting a 'real' camera, to work with their phones for a while, and when they can articulate what it won't do, that a 'real' camera will do, go to the camera store (if they still exist) and buy one that will do that.

I don't think photography is getting less popular, though. People like taking photos and sending them to their friends and family. The iPhone and it's ilk make that possible in seconds. Some say that's displacing 'real' photography, but I don't think so. Those photos almost certainly wouldn't have happened in the pre-iPhone era.

But when it comes to taking an 'artistic' photo, whatever that means to you, often a 'real' camera is the only choice. It puts control of the focus point, depth of field, white balance, all that good stuff, in our hands, rather than in the calculations of an algorithm.

People roll their eyes at me a bit, but I like the process of deciding what I'll try to shoot, selecting the appropriate lens and other gear, going to find and capture it, processing it when I get home, and enjoying the results. That not a lot of other people see those results makes never no mind. I think about printing some, and I'm pretty sure some would look better in print, either in a book or on my wall. But I'm mainly doing this for me, not to make money (heresy, I know) or to get famous, or build a brand or following.

To make an analogy to the formerly booming computer technology of the 1990s and early 2000s, digital photography has become a mature technology and a bit passe'. It's a mature and easy to use tool producing predictably usable results rather than a niche hobby for the technically adept.

That transition from hobby to reliable tool is positive - we can now concentrate upon the substantive product rather than arcane tools.

Of course I agree with ""photography" as a whole is utterly unknowable because it's so incomprehensibly vast." But as for "no one can pretend otherwise" all you have to do is visit various enthusiast-oriented photography forum sites, where you'll find plenty of people who can tell you, with firm conviction, precisely what photography is and isn't :)
I think your closing statements are the crux of it all. There are hundreds of millions of people taking pictures today. Who could possibly hope to discover all the ways in which photography is practiced ? But then, I'm just a guy who takes pictures for fun, so all I really care about is why I practice it. You write about it for a living. It makes sense that you're less comfortable in the knowledge that there's increasingly more to comprehend. (If it helps, I'm uncomfortable knowing that as time goes on, I can wrap my head around an increasingly smaller subset of my field).

I have been having similar misgivings about where we are at with photography.

One of my little pleasures is to browse the photography book section in a large bookshop in town on a Saturday morning. But for the past couple of years or so I just have not seen anything new or exiting. Just the mostly the usual names from the last century repacked in new ways.


Do we really need another Steve McCurry book on Asia? How many permutations can you do with Cartier Bresson or Ansel Adams?

We have an annual festival called European Photography here where I live. The shows seem to drift ever further from photography towards “conceptual art”. I find most of this stuff empty and artificial.

The obligatory bookshop at the festival brings to town what is now considered “cutting edge”. Mostly I just see a lot of empty pictures pressed into service to provide some clever book designs.

The old print magazines have been replaced by the likes of DPR, you could actually learn something from them now and again. What can you learn from a DPR forum thread or online punch-up about the merits of “Equivalency” or similar stuff that passes for photographic technicalities?

Reading through some of these forum posts I get the impression that nobody picks up a technical book anymore to study the technicalities of the craft or art. Where are the digital equivalents of the Ansel Adams’s “Camera”, “Negative” and “Print” trilogy?

We seem to be lacking at the moment photographers who we can use as a point of reference and who I can learn something from. Michael Kenna is on of the few that I can name who’s work I have followed for some years. We see a lot of new names appear and disappear just as quickly.

Perhaps the fact that creating good technically competent pictures has become so easy, is not such a good thing in the end. When I did theatrical photography, my best pictures always emerged from the most desperate situations where I had to really sweat to get results.

Perhaps I am just getting old and cantankerous and cannot appreciate the new.

Disillusion with the state of 'photography' is one thing. Your own personal relationship with taking 'photographs' is another. For me photography has always been about recording and personal expression. What you 'do' with your photography is yet another thing.

You'll notice a lot of quotations marks here..... definitions are still difficult in our world. I never like the catch-all term photography anyway. I prefer to think about the uses of photography. A bit like writing... as others have noted

I still feel encouraged by the possibilities of photography

"Real" (i.e., dedicated) cameras are starting to become [. . .] fundamentally unnecessary.

Check.

My wife and I just returned from a week in Cabo San Lucas, a fairly picturesque place. For the second trip in row, my trusty travel buddy, the Canon G10, never left the bag. I took a hundred or so pictures with my phone - the great majority just snapshots, but a handful of more aesthetic/expressive efforts as well - and you know what? I'm absolutely delighted with the overall results.

I still don't love the experience of using the phone to make pictures, but if I judge strictly by the pictures, there's just nothing to complain about. After 10 years, the G10's traveling days may be coming to a close.

Cheers!
Dan

On the other hand, I would point out the following:

Books: have always functioned as an alternative to the handmade print. Today we not only have quality photo books being pub but quality publishing apps allowing people to publish their own “hold-in-the-hand” photo collections to share with family and friends or for self-publishing. Independent “zines” also collect and share the work of photo artists in ways that were much harder to do in the past.

The Persistence of Analog: Those of us in cities full of millennials and genxers may see this more than most folks do, but everyday I encounter folks carrying analog 35-mm and medium format cameras. (And yes, you still can get film for that thing, a question I am asked every time I go out with a Rollei or Hasselblad. There are new films on the market, and Fuji recently relaunched the much-loved Acros, after a very short period of mourning by analog photographers. )

Online communities (I am thinking particularly of Instagram) are thick with photographers tagging their posts #ishootfilm and #filmisnotdead. Analog now occupies a role photography itself held early in its history, practiced by skilled and skill-learning enthusiasts to explore self-expression. The results are then shared online as digital scans, as digital or traditional optical prints, or as unique are objects created through alternative processes.

While this represents an infinitesimal fraction of all “photographs” being taken, It does feel to me as though the community of analog photographers is growing rather than shrinking. Of course, this community will probably never be big enough to support the manufacture of new analog cameras. But we are fortunate to have many wonderful cameras left over from the golden age of analog photography—hardware that early enthusiasts could have never imagined—and I believe there WILL be enough of us to support the manufacturers of film chemicals, paper, etc.

I wouldn’t presume to make recommendations for others, but for me, the return to analog photography was exactly what I needed to recover some of the excitement I first felt seeing a photograph emerge under the Dektol more than 50 years ago.

Very few people are successful at completely divorcing their world view from their physical well being. It is not impossible to do so, and there are many who make admirable attempts, but ill health, especially when it is protracted wears down the optimism that produces the effort and desire to formulate one's thoughts about serious matters.
I am experiencing it first hand with a deteriorating knee and hip in the same leg. Simple tasks like getting out of a chair, or bending low or carrying a package up stairs, produce enough pain and weakness to take over most of my 'top of mind' consciousness, and drown out more productive use of my consciousness. I fight it with exercise and physical therapy , but progress is slow.
For the first time in my life, I at least wonder 'suppose this is as good as I'll get?'.
I haven't made a good picture in a while, and it troubles me.
It is going on 2 years.
There have been bright spots though, and they always come when I push myself to take advantage of a photographic opportunity---to push my wobbly self out there and let some pictures find me.
Being 'out there' open and ready, elevates mood and sharpens eyes. If I am rewarded with a picture the good effect lasts for days.
The answer for me is personal specificity of a small nature---get up , go out, be open, enjoy what I see.
It is not a time to answer the big questions.

I don't disagree with anything you said, you have accurately described what happens when the Buzzsaw of change disrupts an industry, way of life and an art form.
The truth is we can't un-change stuff , and neither can we judge by 'the rules we grew up with. The buzzsaw got many of those too, but not all.
But neither the saw or new rules can stop us from making work that satisfies US.
In my own case I try to use my new found infirmity as a motivation to focus on what I CAN do rather than what I can't. Or look for the changes that I see as good rather than lamenting what is not. I am clearly not always successful, but when I am, everything seems better.

I think you did an admirable job in describing how the new reality conflicts with the realities that formed us. But it obviously did not make you happy. We all know the future is moving away from our world view. It will be different, there will be good and bad.
Enjoy the good.
Don't tackle the Big questions, focus on the small ones.
Try some specificity, make some pictures, it helps.

And do remember, spring is coming, your nagging cold/flu will go away, and the sun will shine.
Feel better.

Adrian has a short and sweet answer.
https://aows.co/blog/photography-is-about-passion

But, but, the same happened to painting and to writing, and to many other arts (sensu lato). Extreme democratization of the means of production and distribution. And yet, there are still great painters and writers, paintings and books, etc. And we still need critics. Damn the torpedoes!

Perhaps photography is similar to the development of the automobile: at first, it was very expensive, and reserved for those with the technical expertise to make things work that didn't really work that well at first. Today, millions of people with no knowledge of the physics involved drive cars, without a second thought. Yet, those who need or want more have several status vehicles available to them. A Chevy Cruze would not do for such drivers. Yet, in most grocery store parking lots across America, we will find more Fords and Chevrolets than Lamborghinis.

Painters aren't going to stop painting, writers will keep writing, and photographers will continue pumping out their view of the ever changing world. A beautiful photograph will always be so, to someone. Enough.

More generally most things (for some of us) today fall into three categories:
1. no clue what is meant
2. astounded how bad it is: (poorly) written, photographed, etc.
3. or it is esoteric/high brow, who do we think we are?
Thank you, 3. is fine. But yes, it is depressing.

« Expertise and specialized knowledge is not as important any more »

the world is being taken over by grey-goo. a segment of the documentary PressPausePlay [ https://vimeo.com/houseofradon/presspauseplay#t=1638s ] — queued to the segment.

the statement resonates, not only in art, but there is a book (political science) by Tom Nichols called "The Death of Expertise" that probably goes into the same lament.

« Is "photographer" becoming less of a meaningful identity in the public perception? »

it seems that "photographer" is a self-granted title these days, without any sense of the passion/profession. methinks, this is something that is earned from others. the "a photographer's photographer" seems like something that one can better strive to be as the norm.

Everything is in flux right now. Half the world is gorging itself to the point where they can no longer walk, while the other half starves. Completely unsustainable by mid century when- it all falls apart. There'll certainly be lots to take pictures of, but it won't be very pretty...

Hi Mike

Seems like a bunch of valid points and questions.

But I do sense that you are indeed on a downer. And also maybe spending too much time observing the internet world instead of the real world allied with the sweep of history.

Things change. But broad sweeping statements based on the now rarely pan out. A sample way to look at this is to observe that instead of established ways disappearing, we have simply added more to the list of what a photograph is, can be, and how it might be made.

As for the industry, there are likely simply too many manufacturers desiring large-scale markets. And some of them are consumer electronics company's first, and they will approach the market in that manner. It is simply evolution.

As for smartphones, think back to when over the span of a decade everyone had the ability to create graphic work. Most of it sucked and still does. Same for web design. And yes, this hurt freelancers and still does. But they exist and the good ones do well.

As will photographers.

In my mind I've rationalized a dichotomy between taking memories and taking photographs. It's independent of the device used, so I can avoid arguments about phones as serious cameras.

Most people, including myself, use their phones to take memories. Sometimes people get lucky or they are seriously skilled and they take a photograph. A photograph may trigger a memory, but an excellent photograph transcends memory. Taking a memory just requires being there and phones with cameras have increased the number of memory takers (that's not a bad thing).

I send a family Christmas card with a 5x7 carefully taken family/vacation photo. Fewer and fewer of my friends send a card back and I've notice that the ones I get have smaller and smaller images. Sometimes I get a card of a half-dozen 1x2 images. You can usually tell what's going on and you get a memory, but not much of a photo.

Anyone with a smartphone is a photographer these days, and more photos are being taken than ever before.

It seems that this should be a good thing for the camera industry in that all they need to stay viable is for a small percentage smartphone photographers to cultivate a larger interest and seek out camera gear of some sort.

It seems...

But then again, at what point is the smartphone simply good enough for most people? And the smartphone is so easy, and indeed fun to use.

I am currently going through ALL my photos and organising them to print in books. Then save them to the 'cloud'.
My family would not know where to start and my photos would just disappear.
I will also delete vast quantities of photos and all 'unselected' raw files. Thus massively reducing my backup sizes.
Eventually people will waken up to the lack of art in the mundane images recorded and the cream will rise again.
I think the images I take are different. Posterity will judge.

I feel the same way. Welcome to Team Morose. What you wrote helped me realize that one of the reasons I was so deeply invested in photography over the decades was that it took skill and expertise to be good at it and acknowledged as a "photographer." Now, not so much. I carry on, if only because of force of habit, but these days I get more excited about creating music than photographs.

You said “Expertise and specialized knowledge is not as important any more…”. I wonder if any non-photographers knew that expertise and special knowledge was required? For landscape photography they would not notice the tonal range or what might have gone on in the darkroom, only the beauty of the subject. For commercial photographers I suspect the general public only noticed the product and not the quality of the photograph and what it took to make it. They noticed the results and not the process.

Your question, “Is ‘photographer’ becoming less of a meaningful identity in the public perception?” I don’t mean to be disrespectful but was a photographer ever a meaningful identity to the general public? Curators, book publishers and corporations who hired photographers certainly saw the photographer as a meaningful identity but do you think the general public really understood how difficult it was to create a good photograph of a landscape, portrait or frozen pizza? I did not until I bought my first DSLR 9 years ago.

I think the reason you see less personality and more anonymity in photography may be because the general public, most of whom have a camera in their pocket, never saw the photographer as a meaningful identity. How could they know if they have not experienced what it takes to make a really good photograph? They can take a picture on their phone, open an app, touch a preset and feel proud. I wonder how they would feel if an experienced photographer showed them what is possible.

Hi Mike,

"...things haven't felt "normal" and I don't have my usual level of day-to-day energy. And it's Winter—a curious climate change / non-Winter Winter. It's been warm and rainy compared to what used to be normal. I'm a little "down." Is all that just carrying over into my other interests?"

Could also be Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) - which is a thing. Compare your experience with Mayo Clinic info at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

Sometimes, just knowing that your experience tracks with that of many other members of humanity can be of some consolation, if not an encouragement to seek something to counter it.

Stick with it - you have great talent for writing about photography and the creative process (a deeply personal experience for anyone) and we readers appreciate both your professional insights and your personal candor.

John

A good list of items that make me worried too. A few comments on four of your bullets.

(1) Physicallty. Yes, we owe it to our photographs to produce physical versions of them, a paper print in a frame, a Zine, a book, a postcard we send to frieds. This is from my perspective as someone who does photography for personal enjoyment and without any claim to cultural significance; I understand that you, Mike, are also worried about the output at the "major artist" end of the spectrum.

(2) B&W. When I made my late move into digital, I hesitated a geeat deal about colour vs B&W. I wanted to do B&W, but I was worried that in digital somehow this would become inauthentic and pretentious. I ignored those worries and took the jump into monochrome, committing all of my digital photography to B&W. Never did I make a better choice. A strange thing has happened: others don't fuss about the fact that my pictures are B&W, neither positively not negatively. They notice it, they make a few remarks about it, and then they just deal with the actual photograph as a photograph.

(3) Expertise. To be creative in my own photography, I need the receptive alertness that comes from shooting all manual, both focus and exposure. After decades with film I am reasonably competent in doing that, but boy, I am not even remotely close to "seeing like the sensor sees", so I am still faced with challenges regarding skills and expertise. Others will have fewer such challenges, but for me nothing has changed. Does it trouble me that today's cameras allow beginners to nail exposure and focus much better than I can with all my efforts? No, not really.

(4) Modification. Again, for me personally the matter does not arise. I shoot RAW, perform a very simple set of exposure and contrast correction in post, and treat the result as final. I try to standardise the processing, so that these transformalions yield the same consistency across images as came from using the same film. I never change details. I leave sharpness and noise reduction settings at their lowest levels. Photographs as straight recordings. If others operate at the other extreme of the manipulation spectrum, does that make my own photographs any less straighforward? I guess you are right, society's perceptions regarding the authenticity of a photograph are undergoing a fundamental change, and ultimately this will impact on how my own photographs are perceived. But at the same time I also believe that somehow, subtly but deeply, a photograph that was done "straight" will be perceived as such by the viewer, whatever the surrounding culture.

This comment is getting way too long, so I stop here. Let me just say that today, despite all the challenges you mention, I feel more like a "genuine photographer" in the Evans-Abbott tradition than in all my film years beforehand.

One interesting thing I've noticed about how my photography has changed over the past decade is that I'm now happily doing more with less.

Back in 2010, despite the fact I was merely a happy hobbyist, I was using a second-hand medium-format digital outfit that was bulky, heavy, and all-in, cost me slightly more than the car I was driving at the time.

Fast forward to today and I am photographing the same subject matter -- urban and suburban street scenes at night using long exposures at base ISO -- and (IMO) achieving far better results, technically and artistically, despite using a second-hand camera outfit I can easily duplicate for $2,000 or perhaps even a bit less on a good day at eBay.

While I can afford to spend more money if I had no choice, why should I if I am happy with the results I am achieving for less?

The camera outfit I'm now using can probably be duplicated in its entirely for less than the depreciation expense I used to incur on my camera gear each year. It also cost less than what a clean, well maintained version of the same-but-now-10-years-older car I was driving in 2010 will cost today.

The bottom line is that advances in technology are doing a great job of wringing the money out of photography and while this is a great benefit for me personally, it can't be good for the industry as a whole, as we're now witnessing in so many different ways.

We're complex creatures - who knows what contributes to our current state of mind? Have you considered that maybe there's more than just the current state of photography?

There's certainly enough going on in this world today to demoralize any moral and empathetic human being - how can it not inch it's way into our daily lives and thoughts? As the late Heather Heyer posted "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

I sometimes wonder though, if digital has stolen the community and craft from the craft of photography. I miss my darkroom days and the camaraderie that went with it - hard to share excitement about a new computer or the latest post processing software or digital sharing and no print.

That's not to say there aren't still skills involved - just that they seem to be lonely skills.

Mike

I hope your "down time" is merely a resultant of a protracted period of being unwell and winter. I'm told that winter aggravates that feeling.

To separate the sheep from the goats, I think true blue photographer should be proud and able to declare the equipment that they used to take that photo.

For example I recently shot a roll with my Konica Hexar RF and 50 Summar lens (made between 1932 -1939).

I could briefly declare, "Street Shot. Konica Hexar RF. 50 Summar. Kodak Tri-X @ EI 320". Now it's obvious I am not in that class of Samsung or iPhone camera users.

Dan K.
Singapore

Hi Mike, the one thing I’d add, which is implicit in your post, is that in economic terms, photographs are now largely a commodity. Cheap to produce, cheap to maintain, and I dare say it’s now harder to make a living as a photographer (acknowledging that the likes of Mr Tuck can explain / refute this far better than I).
When corporates trawl through the web & Instagram looking for cheap (free) images, when photo competitions are more about rights grabs and building stock photo libraries, then photography has been devalued.
A big part of this is the cost squeeze from google etc on media companies, but also the democratisation of taking and sharing photos, thanks to smart phones, and Instagram etc. Just look at how the bushfire reporting played out in Australia and globally this (antipodean) summer.
There will still be a role for quality images and photographers, maybe even art, but it will be increasingly niche. Your point about video is also relevant, however I view this as more about the reducing cost of production and the ability to access video via cheap data and increasing bandwidth (be it internet or mobile / cellphone data via wifi, 4G, 5G etc). Just look to Lens Rentals and other blog sites introducing podcasts, to try and stay in the game.
As you say, neither good nor bad, just ‘tis.

Today's offering brings to mind an old joke.

Buy a camera and you are a photographer;
buy a violin and you own a violin.

I might have read it here on TOP.

Where does the smartphone fit in that joke?

Mike: an addendum to my comment.

Even when you have the "blues" Mike, reading TOP is still the bright spot in my day. Cheer up!

George

Sorry Mike, one more point re my previous comment and the democratisation of photography. I’d say that for most people, photography (and video) is no longer an end in and of itself, it’s now a subservient part of a larger experience - that of sharing snippets of one’s life with others via social media.

Wow. I think that's what Hank Carter would call a "cri de coeur".

You're going to get as many different answers as there are pebbles on Newton's beach.

My take is that, for a multitude of reasons, photography probably isn't in a great state right now. However, that's no reason to despair. There's an awful lot wrong with the world right now. Keep taking photos. I like getting my keepers printed up and stuck in an album. Prints make photos resonate for me.

If in doubt photograph loved ones. "What will survive of us is love."


The past is finite. The future is infinite. Given the choice, I prefer the future.

I too would have the photographic blahs if I was still shooting pure digital. I now shoot film, and digitize it with high-resolution camera scans from an Olympus EM5 Mark II. It is the best of both worlds: a tangible negative, and a digital file which can be manipulated in Lightroom before being sent to my Epson P400 injet printer.

So many potential conversations haring off from this one post! A few thoughts....

Billions of people write things every single day (shopping lists, tweets, emails, texts). Only some of them would ever say "I'm a writer". I think photography is still the same despite the billions of pictures that were uploaded to the Internet today. Only some of those people did so thinking "I'm a photographer".

The trustworthiness question is interesting. Anyone who reads this blog already knows that the camera is a pathological liar and always has been. Even so, until recently it wasn't unreasonable to expect that a photograph might actual show what was there. Computational photography tools that are coming out now are tossing that idea out the window. From fine details that have been created using "artificial intelligence" to photographic deep fakes, it's game over for indexicality.

Camera equipment as status symbol still has lots of life. Spend some time in a medium format photography forum where people are happily dropping $50,000 for their gear if you really want to see the camera as status symbol!

Don't give up Mike! Spring is just around the corner.

"It's like my connection to photography is feeling a bit tenuous, and/or my interest is at a low ebb"

Mike, I feel like that when I am not happy with the camera or lens I am using. Not that I am one to run out and purchase more equipment, I just change what I am using.
Perhaps you just need to shoot some stuff with whatever you are NOT using at this moment.


Think about painting. A million people have "paint sets" and paint Impressionistic landscapes of more or less quality, usually less. But there are dozens, and maybe a few hundred, really exceptional painters around the world and the U.S., who still speak to people with their art. Maybe photography is going that way -- thousands and maybe millions of practitioners, some quite good, most fairly mediocre, with a few hundred really exceptional artists. Those fine (photographic) artists will make extremely limited editions and their works will be hung on walls. Maybe we should call them "artists" rather than "photographers."

analog photography, roughly: Inaccurate term alert.

Analog can refer to either film, chemical based photography, or DIGITAL photography. How is that possible? Well I will tell you. Your sensor in all those digital cameras is also, drum roll please, an ANALOG device. Yes that sensor in all digital cameras is analog. When dose all that data, really photons, become digital data? Once it goes through the Analog-to-Digital converter.

That's all folks.

Now you've got me thinking, Mike.
Brooks Jensen has argued for several years that digital cameras have become so reliably good, they have effectively eliminated the previous technical and skill barriers, and therefore photographers are finally free to explore the *content* of their images. Since we now have a Tsunami of images that are technically adequate, content becomes the only way to stand out.

That is not at all how I see things. It's true that achieving a superficially acceptable exposure is now trivially easy. But compared to life, the recorded photographic image, whether printed on paper or displayed on a screen, still imposes constraints (from dynamic range to color gamut and balance to tonal smoothness and so on) within which we must work. Precisely how the photographer responds to those constraints- how one fits the vast dynamic range of the world into the much narrower ~ 8 stops of an inkjet print, for example- is where the magic is found. Even in a world where billions of new images are captured every day, there is still a place for the single photograph that makes you catch your breath.
Certainly for millions of people a good cell phone camera is more than good enough for their photographic goals. The overwhelming majority of images will never exist as more than a fleeting jpeg. But surely there's still room for a finely crafted large print that demonstrates some real skill and technical prowess to match the photographer's aesthetic ambition. Painting didn't disappear when photography arrived; it became instead more interpretive as photographs took over mundane recording duties.

I watched the Australian Open tennis final and saw the photographers with their Canon L glass zooms. Given that every moment was being recorded from thirty other TV cameras, recording 4K video at huge frame rates with incredible lenses, from every possible vantage point, I thought what's the point of even having a 'Photographer' turn up to these sporting events anymore? Scroll through the video and simply choose the frame at the exact moment and angle you want. Send that to the newspapers.

I'm not sure why,exactly, but I figured you were feeling that way recently.
I hope this magnificent post will not be the epitaph of TOP.

[Oh, heck no! No way. Photography is an interest that always comes back for me, even if it wanes for a while. --Mike]

Photography has moved past notions of mechanical this or digital that. If we wish, we are free to use whatever imaging technology that fills a particular need.

Change is a constant in our lives. Hopefully intellectual and personal growth also occurs over time. One day you may find the box you were so comfortable working in has become constricting. Hopefully when that happens you are not required to petition your peers for permission to step out of the box.

Why are you being so down on yourself? This is the time of the year for the Blahs, you are too good of a photographer or blogger to second guess yourself. I also, had a medical procedure last April, and now finally can walk around the block. I had a blocked femoral artery in right leg no pulse in foot it was numb and hurt like hell. To fix was an operation that started at 7AM I woke up 730 PM. They had scrape artery cut from groin to ankle to pull out grand saphenous vein and reconnect to artery. Still not totally healed but I can walk and foot and leg were saved. Working my way thru nerves reconnecting or not. Swelling in right leg starting to abate, they told me a year or longer on that. I have had gas so bad I got rid of my d850 bought Ricoh GRD4 and GR2. Plenty of photog books , still have my 4 Leica x’s and can’t wait to be able go back my year round camp in ADK. I AM NOT ANYWHERE near probably 99% of your readers base in photog skills but I having fun. I am 72 and seriously contemplating for my next and probably last camera a used Hassey X1d with that new almost pancake 45 mm lens. We are both on this side of the grass so quit thinking so much take the dog and go park car at one of finger lakes and make your beautiful pics. If you ever want run away to ADK REACH OUT to me and come be my guest.

Good observations, Mike. I am a longtime amateur and am fairly unschooled in art theory, but I sort of feel that photography has always had feet of clay, compared to painting and sculpture. If Lee Friedlander prefers the sobriquet "photographer" to "artist," I'm certainly not going to call myself the latter, but we can all be photographers.

I try to bring new seeing to my photography with very occasional success, but I always have the nagging feeling that it's all been done many times, no matter how good it is. That is sad in one sense, but in another, it makes me less disappointed that someone else has probably done something very similar to what I have done. I can take pleasure from good seeing, composition, exposure, etc, even if thousands of others have also photographed the same subject. I hope that cell phone photographers get some of the same feeling and don't just look at it as visual note taking.

Sorry, forgot to say bring the dog, dogs always welcomed.

Big...we've waited long enough...Fuji V100 was announced yesterday on their web site....FYI

Yes to all these points, but also no. Consider an alternative view: that according to the principles you understood, things have gone either asunder or amok. And for all the reasons you point out, this is true.

But there is another way to look at this - imagine the next generation growing up with these realities, but for them, they are not contradictions of the fundamentals, but simply a different way. If photography as an art form has merit (and I believe it does), it will weather this storm. New appreciations from different perspectives will emerge. They are not your ways, nor mine, but I have hope they will come forth. It will not be the subtleties or the quiet voices we grew to love, but rather a different way. I have no idea if this will be louder or more quiet, but it will come. Somehow.

As I read your thoughts I was agreeing, disputing, considering alternatives and ended up reaching no counterpoint. I'm pretty sure about one point, though. Art stands the test of time.

“I see less personality and more anonymity in a lot of photography these days”.

I find this statement true as well. I may be jaded, but there seems to be a a lot of one-upmanship where people are trying to pursue the best version of an already established aesthetic. At least the amateurs are. Everyone is trying out wolfe Art Wolfe or whoever they are emulating.

Presently I'm involved in a F/B group Lost Bali, dedicated to photos of Bali pre-1990. The idea is that it's lost its magic. I don't agree but that's another issue.

The thing is the execrable quality of people's photos and the deterioration of their prints. Most neg prints are presented seemingly as shot laid out on a table with a phone camera. Dirty colours, faded, crooked. People don't seem to care. So what hope for "photography"?

Mine attract high compliments and stand up way above the crowd because they were all shot on transparencies and scanned with great care by me, cropped, straightened, adjusted etc. But so many people ask, "What camera did you use?" I'm tired of saying, "It's not the camera!"

Search Lost Bali.

Yet we not only "do" photography, but we even pay to read about it ;-)

"• Vast numbers of people, including many former enthusiast/hobbyist photographers, are apparently happy enough with smartphones…"

It should be added that most of my clients wouldn't care if I delivered photographs with my 30+ Mp camera or my phone … as long as I deliver the image they want.

-Schaf

The true "digital transition" didn't start in 1994. That tsunami hit in June of 1999, when Nikon shipped the first D1 SLRs. The digital clones that dribbled out of Kodak prior to the summer of ’99 were basically experimental curiosities, and never embraced by the trade. Those Kodak digital hybrids reached only a very few working pros, virtually all of ’em members of rich corporate staffs, and they had zero impact on the general photo equipment market.

Hey Mike,

Here are a few reactions to your post--I broke each reaction down in the same way you did. This isn't intended to disagree with what you wrote--because in many ways I feel the same way on bad days--but just to offer a different perspective, a few thoughts on looking towards the future. I got nearly to the end but need to turn back to my photo projects now--thought you might be interested in this partial (though long) comment.

-----------------

*Photographs are not longer objects.*

Yet museums and galleries have on display more photographs than ever before.

Sunday I saw Ansel Adams' *Surf Sequence*, in person at the Cantor--plus two very earlier images by Ansel that I had never seen before showing downhill snow skiers and the patterns they left in the snow. Also saw there a nice selection of Helen Levitt's work along with that of Wright Morris and John Gutmann. A few weeks earlier I attended a large show of photographs--made from wax paper negatives!--by John Beasley Greene at SFMOMA.

And it's not just San Francisco. In Los Angeles, LACMA and the Getty almost always have a photography-based show (I saw a large Gordon Parks show at the Getty last summer and there is an exhibit there now centered on platinum photography.)

The Denver Art Museum has a entire floor dedicated to photography shows, the Cleveland Museum of Art is about to open a exhibit on contact sheets, while over at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City--a wonderful art museum that doesn't display as much photography as it should--they recently closed a show on daguerreotypes of the Gold Rush and are soon opening one on Gordon Parks (Parks is in demand, it seems).

Way down in Texas the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has a historical survey of photography up on its walls and way up in Boston, the somewhat staid Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is about to open a show called "Elsa Dorfman: Me and My Camera." What camera, you ask? Why, it's a 20x24 Polaroid!

And these shows are just at some of the major museums. There are plenty of smaller museums and galleries. And, of course, in New York you probably could not see all of the photographs on display even if that was your full-time occupation.



*Almost all photographs are color now*
This has been true for a very long time. I worked at a camera store in the mid to late 1980s and we sold far more color film than black and white, and 35mm color sales dwarfed black and white. I'd guess, at this time, this had already been true for a decade or more.

Now it's just all in your face, literally, on that screen in front of you.

But even if we want to limit ourselves to serious photography have a second look at the museum shows I mentioned above. Most are entirely black and white, all but one of the others are dominated by black and white images.

Part of the problem is that hobbyists--critical to the ecosystem of supporting the kind of photography that attracts many black and white photography fans--is centered on color photography. Black and white photography--despite its continued importance--see museum shows, above--is an afterthought by camera manufacturers and software developers.

Digital files can be made in black and white at the time of shooting but why would you? With a raw file you can apply your Red 25 filter to that landscape after the fact, or maybe use the orange or a weak yellow. You can decide when you make the exposure or you can decide later. That's very powerful, although it probably makes many photographers lazy. And so no one, perhaps save a few Leica shooters with a dedicated B&W body, shoot in black and white. And so manufacturers (with that one exception) don't focus on black and white.

Software is a problem, too. I was a long-time Aperture user. Years back I sent an e-mail to Apple CEO Tim Cook pointing out that if I shot a raw file in black and white mode on my camera (which seemed to show up in the file metadata plus the JPEG was black and white) why didn't Aperture show me that raw file with a black and white "filter" over it, so I didn't suddenly see my picture in color? I explained that seeing that black and white shot--black and white in my head--abruptly in color was harmful to keeping that image in my head untainted while I considered whether and how to print it. I wanted to keep that ability to change the filtration after the fact, oh yes! but I never wanted to see my black and white images in color, I wanted to keep their spirit pure, their monochromatic nature untainted by the bright hues, those sparkly colors.

Cook ignored my e-mail so I sent him another one a few months later. And then, every few months, re-made my suggestions until I had sent a total of four or five e-mails. Finally, Apple, in response to what may have been seen by them as a sort of harassment--canceled development of Aperture. I blame myself.

Is software any better with black and white now? Not that I have found.

And so hobbyists are not steered toward black and white, as they used to be (back then: color too hard to do on your own, amateur photo labs sucked) but are given black and white only as a sort of anachronistic option.

Photographs, deep in their nature, aren't black and white or color anymore. To be a black and white photograph in the digital realm the image needs to be *converted* to black and white. But heck, if you are going to do a conversion you can all sorts of conversions, black and white just being one of many possibilities.


*Expertise and specialized knowledge is not as important any more, and may be declining in the amount of respect it receives.*
Expertise and specialized knowledge do not garner the respect they used to garner, oh so true, but primarily because "expertise" is so easy to come by anymore. Want to make platinum prints? There's a YouTube video for that and suppliers waiting to take your order. Focus stacking? Learn enough to roll in thirty minutes or less, learn enough to start your own Instagram account dedicated to insect photography in a week. Want to mimic a certain look of a certain photograph you saw somewhere online? Post that link in the right forum and you'll have it all laid out for you in a few hours.

There are still people we would call experts. Take astrophotography. It seem everyone, anyone can shoot amazing photographs of the Milky Way anymore, even videos of the Milky Way, with the camera gliding in front of those trees oh so gracefully. You can, too--it's just one B&H order away if you don't already have what you need. But if you are really into astrophotography you will soon discover that some things are hard and some things are easy and although the easy things result in pretty spectacular photographs--quite enough for most people--the hard things are hard indeed, requiring the expertise of scientists, of optical design, and usually requiring an astonishing amount of money.

Those experts, idols up on the pedestal, are still there but the pedestal just isn't as high as it used to be and all of the others around the expert, looking up, don't have to tilt their heads back as far as they used to.


*Photographs are less true.*

Yet so much more truth is available from photographs than ever before.

Photos are easily faked nowadays in ways that may be impossible to detect (and people online are easily, almost eagerly duped, it seems) but there are also so many more photographs to draw upon. Look at the recent downing of the jetliner over Tehran. It seems the government wanted to hide the truth. You could imagine scenarios where it may have falsified facts, faked photos. And yet other sources of data, all result of the digital revolution, worked against those efforts.

Take another example. A year or two ago my daughter was planning to go to South Africa to study baboons. She would fly into Johannesburg and take a bus from Park Station. Did I flip through old New York Times' or Life Magazine's hoping to find an image of Park Station to see if it was safe, wondering if the images--whether individually faked or not-- offered an accurate portrayal? Did I dig out my books by Sebastian Salgado, wondering if he had done work in Johannesburg? No, I googled and within minutes had grave concerns about sending my daughter through that station, seeing hundreds of images of what appeared to be a crime ridden place (Bonus: a video "walkthrough" of the road to the station and local news accounts of South African police being attacked by gangs that controlled the station).

You can fake a photo but probably not for long. And this seems to be a concern more for journalism than the kind of "art" photography I do, the kind of photography that you normally talk about on this site. In my own work it's all "faked" in one respect or another despite my best attempts to keep it as honest and true as I possibly can.

*Vast numbers of people, including many former enthusiast/hobbyist photographers, are apparently happy enough with smartphones for what amounts to point-and-shoot photography.*

That's because iPhones are amazing. They have brought the magic back to photography for me. I've actually giggled--I'm fifty-four years old!--as I watched a Night Shot photo appear on my phone when I first purchased it. My hear rate actually increased when I was shooting during an artist residency in the Mojave Desert--I could feel it, my god--as the images from my tripod-mounted phone appeared on the screen, blackness all around me, glowing pixie dust on the screen.

I used to know, from a technical point of view, how photographs were made. When iPhones came I knew how the images were made--they were using techniques more or less what you could do on your own, though much more quickly and accurately. But the new phones crossed some sort of line in recent years, especially with the newest models. I don't know what they are doing anymore. They are not just doing regular darkroom stuff, just way faster.

I'm no beginner. I know my way around a view camera and have a special place in my heart for the Pentax Digital spot meter with my hand made zone system sticker on it. My favorite camera ever, the one that was just *me* was the Hasselblad 500 C/M on a heavy Manfrotto (Bogen as it was called then) 3035 tripod. I made my own window screen drying racks for my toned prints, built, with the help of my brother, a seven foot darkroom sink. I'm not afraid of inconvenience in the pursuit of excellence, not shy about expense or suffering to get the image I want to get.

But the new phones are magical. They are incredibly exciting, incredibly freeing. People should be happy enough with these phones, my god, and to dream of the future! Those who crave something else can look into that view camera--more and more film is available every year, it seems. There's nothing stopping you.


*"Real" (i.e., dedicated) cameras are starting to become a little like fine watches...relegated to connoisseurs but fundamentally unnecessary.*

*is the popularity of photography in the culture as a whole also diminishing along with the camera business?*

*Is "photographer" becoming less of a meaningful identity in the public perception?*

*I see less personality and more anonymity in a lot of photography these days.*

When I first discovered photography many years ago and made photos with a film camera and saw a print emerge in the developer tray it seemed mysterious. That mysteriousness always stuck with me as a photographer. Although I didn't know it at the time I thought it was perfect. Perhaps with digital photography, that mysterious veil has been parted to reveal a whole new level of perfection. I look back on what I thought were "perfect" negatives and now I think to myself "and I thought those were perfect?" The thing with digital is that it has opened a whole new way of seeing which I think is a good thing.

But then the new Fuji X100V comes around, and puts a smile on our faces. So much for demoralization.

Hey Mike, I think one of the problems is a more level playing field. If you consider all the people that just need a memory, a snap shot, they are the majority of compact camera users gone iPhone.
In the film days there were so many variables to master to produce a good photograph. Aside from the visual aspect there was film choice, films speed, manual metering, an array of developers, dilutions, developing times and then the same variables in the dark room...as you well know.
Today the majority of us shoot with a sony sensor, a generic software, an iMac and photo styles.
Not quite, but you get the idea. I think photography meant more when you had to work at getting an image, sometimes days.
Looking at photos today is a bit like looking at cars...you have to really look to spot a gem.
pf

All your points seem significant. But re phone point and shooting - it seems to me that a great majority of “serious” cameras have been mostly used as fancy point and shoot devices for a long time, in auto mode with autofocus and auto exposure. The big differences vs. a current high end phone are the lack of depth of field control (now starting to be simulated in processing) and the lack of a good finder- although arguably better than a Rolleiflex or a Hasselblad had. And of course the ergonomics...

Not being satisfied is at the root of all good work.

That sounds preposterously pretentious but I couldn't dream up anything better. It's the ebb and flow of life, totally normal. Down time is when you clean up old files or vacuum or scrub toilets.

That's a very good summary of how I feel as well.

The knowledge of how to control a camera is disappearing as the population ages. It's just that for nearly everyone a phone (with its automation) does a good enough job. There is little need to understand further.

And regarding good looking photographs, most people don't care. I see phone photos on walls that need better composition and could use a little editing. People are oblivious to the shortcomings.

I'm enjoying the camera I have but don't plan on another unless something breaks. I mostly just carry my phone now, they seem to get better and better.

Andy

On your last point regarding photography as an expressive medium and the perceived decline in personal style, I think I may have an explanation.

I suspect that a lot of what's driving your thoughts is the same factors you reference above, primarily the fact that there is just a lot more photography out there, and we SEE a lot more of it than before.

I still see lots of photographers who have a personal style. But there are now so many photographers practicing so many different styles, that individual styles don't stand out as much. I'm not sure that is a function of the reversion to the mean or the tendency of budding photographers to copy others' style. It could just mean that in the past, Lisette Model stood out because (a) there were very few photographers whose style was vaguely similar to hers, and (b) of those photographers, she was the only one who was noticed, published, exhibited, etc. So if the total universe of photographers was 1,000,000, and there were 10 photographers shooting in her style (0.001%) and she was the only one whose work you saw, then she would appear to be 0.0001% of all photographers, making her seem unique indeed.

Compare that to today, where there may be 1 billion photographers. Suppose there is a photographer with a distinct style. Applying the same percentages, there would be 10,000 photographers with a similar style, and you would have seen the work of 1,000 of them. All of a sudden, that style doesn't seem that unique anymore, does it? But is that because the individual photographer is approaching the art any differently, is less creative, less passionate or less expressive? Is there less intentionality behind the work? Is the medium itself any less expressive? I would say no, but the work is certainly received very differently in that case.

These are obviously made-up numbers, and I may be wrong, but it's a thought.

Best,
Adam

All good and completely valid points. But, if you separate the analog from the digital, and the craft from the media mainstream, you can deal with it easier. I think digital is the GMO world of photography and as such, it deserves a non-traditional POV vs. analog, even though it uses the analog’’s basics. In a way, the camera phone is a logical deviation of this, where the pretense any semblance to traditional forms are left on the other side of the line. The consumer will triumph here. The only “island” I see now for those professionals left is the top level of the analog/digital development, because, perhaps, that physical form of the camera validates the profession somewhat.

All of the steps in film photography-making a proper exposure, developing the film, making, spotting, and mounting a print- used to take some training, skill, a variety of equipment, and a fair amount of time. There was a little bit of pride and pleasure when it all worked.
Now all it takes it holding up your phone and clicking.
It's hard to think there is anything special about an art or craft that only requires clicking your phone and looking at the results on the same or another phone. If somebody uses a $6,000 camera and lens instead of the phone that doesn't really change what it is or how we value it.

Re iPhone-ography: I suppose someone was saying something similar back when the Kodak Brownie came out in 1900. Let’s face it: most people aren’t really photographers or into photography. They really only wanted “happy snaps” for memory’s sake—even if they felt they had to get an expensive camera to do so.

I’m thinking of the many people I’ve run into who have no real idea of how to use their expensive Nikons, Canons, Pentax’s—and Leicas—other than pressing the shutter button. I’m thinking of all the badly composed, badly exposed images from people’s “ family vacation” pictures I’ve seen over the years-both film and digital.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Except for the technology....

I understand the general feelings you paint. And I can "hear, hear" some of your points. But this really reads like a bit of a mid-winter/mid-life point-of-view malaise essay.

I tend to also get gray and gloomy at this time of year. The antidote I've adopted is to re-engage with MY photography more deeply and in different ways during these periods. Spectating and commentating is not engagement in an active sense. To hell with the "state of photography" as you see it. Embrace and affect the state of YOUR photography.

One of the best winter activities towards such a goal is to make a book of your work. There is simply no better way to immerse yourself in your own photography than to curate it toward such a specific objective. And it's never been easier. Even if you choose not to actually print the book I'm certain that you will find it a rewarding experience and a good distraction from the temptation to become sullen over what may increasingly appear to be a field leaving you behind.


---
And yes, I am working on another book this winter!

I think you have summed it up quite nicely at the end:

«photography" as a whole is utterly unknowable because it's so incomprehensibly vast. It probably always was, but, nowadays, no one can pretend otherwise.»

You can do the same for music as well - there is ever more coming and it is hard to find out where to start listening to new things. Having a teenager with in the house introducing me to new stuff and why he likes it makes it possible to take in things that are completely different from what I would choose myself (or even find) and learn to like it.
Everything was not better before - just different - and there is so much more.
The sheer volume makes it harder to find the execellent.

Good analysis of the status of Photography.
Publishing very small photos on Instagram is not what I call "expressing myself photographically", despite the regular and friendly few "likes" it does generates.
Besides commercial photo assignments all done digitally of course, my photo thrill is generated from printing black & white on my personal printer. Since a while, my favorite pictures are from analog photography. I am going the slow way, shooting and processing at home 3 rolls of Tri-X at the time, scanning patiently with a still functioning Nikon 8000 and printing either 8,5" wide or 18" wide. OThen, I feel like I am enjoying photography.
Hoping I will still like it for a long time.

I find myself in a bit of a funk too. Reflecting on our shared interest in photography, the idea that I’m not able to do things is an issue. I can’t move quickly to get the shot. I’d like to select some of my better work, and print them. I’d like to work in black and white more.
It’s the weather, it’s also the ‘spirit’ or lack there of, that’s common in the country today. I consider myself a progressive, but I’d like to go back to those times when we all got along. You know, bipartisanship?
And that’s bothering me.
I too am feeling sniffly, and stuffed up,- the days are gray more often, and that doesn’t help! I think some warm weather would help, and maybe some time off from the news.
Fred

I think you ARE in a funk! As I read through, I found myself taking exception to almost every point. I recognized some truth in each area, but not agreement.

Yes, most photographs are files and there are less prints, but doesn't that make the prints more special?

Then you say that "expertise and specialized knowledge are not as important any longer" which I assume refers to the capture and darkroom processes. In the next point you point out that "technical excellence is becoming commonplace" in the post production area is a negative? In the end, I think it's still a matter of taste. some folks had bad taste in the darkroom and many have bad taste in the digital space. The process has certainly been democratized but I don't see that so negatively.

Regarding the the masses settling on smart phones, doesn't that make photography with traditional cameras more special?

Regarding the idea of being a "photographer" I can't say I've come across your scenario. If anything, more people envy the job. More people "love" photography. More people are interested in images. More people would like to be better at it. Seems like everyone would love to be paid to do it. Obviously many are trying that route with varied success.

Your last paragraph instantly brought to mind your post from last week regarding music and the folks who say they "like everything." The photography world is huge. The genres seemingly limitless. I actually agree with you in your frustration with that, but like you say, it is what it is. The best doctors in the world today are only experts in their sliver of an expertise. There's too much to know these days!

It might not be long before answering that question with, "I'm a photographer," might be met with a retort such as, "of course, but what do you do?"
It is already happening. I have been asked the second question many times over the past few months.

Mike,

I enjoyed your musings here as is so often the case. With respect to your point about expressive photography, I wonder if there is an opening there for a renaissance in film camera technology. With a bit of research and development attention, a company like Nikon or Canon could re-connect with a huge past, and their customers can explore a much less used technology with a modern tool kit.

Film has authenticity, film is different. With luck and maybe even a bit of skill film produces something physical that can be very interesting indeed in its physical self, like a marble sculpture. Figure out how to add in modern conveniences like great exposure control, a digital preview mechanism of some sort, and inbody image stabilization and you'd open the door to experimentation by millions of photography fans.

The images they each create on film wouldn't just be one more malleable digital image from among the billion or so taken in the last five minutes by interchangeable digital cameras or phones whose results mostly look much the same.

Chasing that difference via an improved technological path to an inherently different piece of artistic work could provide the edge that leads committed and resourceful photo-artists to successfully branded self-expression.

Thanks,
Jeff Clevenger

I think John Camp is on the right track. The availability of the image is key. The instantaneous sharing of an image may be the coolest thing about phone photography but it may also be that this effective mass duplication of an image at the tap of a “key” is what sucks all the value out of it and makes looking at pictures a rote activity for many.

The problem isn’t that there are 2 billion photos captured, uploaded, and stored every single day…the problem is that 1 billion are shared instantly. It’s just too much and it ends up manufacturing a digital cloud of ephemera.

In the end it’s probably the photography enthusiasts and fine art photographers who will stay the course since not much should change for them. Both will always have quality tools, both will strive to improve, both will control access to their work, and both will always see photography as art.

It seems working professionals will continue to face a hard road considering the current publishing landscape and the consumer’s new found photographic self-reliance. The latest 2020 concern for professionals seems to be a Hedge Fund/Vulture Fund circling Tribune Media, waiting for a potential stock purchase opportunity later this year. This kind of thing just makes me sad.

As usual, reading the comments was almost as interesting as reading your post. I vote for the S.A.D. midwinter/new year slump diagnosis!

Otherwise, I will chime in too. I was educated many years ago as a physicist/astronomer, but had enough hours for a minor in philosophy, closely akin to astronomy and theoretical physics IMHO. I find myself occasionally drifting off into similar thought processes.

I can see the issue - photography has gone from being a process-oriented activity to more of a product activity. Sort of returning to the way Kodak sold box cameras over a century ago - "you press the button, we do the rest."

There are two types of people here - process people and product people. Process people love the process - learning the steps to get to the end, but the end product is secondary. Produce people get want to get it finished and have the final product. (I'm a product person, FYI.)

Digital has it's process too, but many of us find sitting at a screen editing photos to be boring. Hardly hands-on like darkroom work. I do as little editing as I can to get what I want, and most of the time it's simply cropping.

As was noted, one could see a similar process to computers. I'd suggest adding another topic that is often discussed here, audio. My music collection started on vinyl, went to tape, cassette tape, CDs and now electronic files. Over time I lost interest because of music quality, most of my listening was in the car with the associated background noise. The computer even with good speakers was annoying. Radio reception was terrible in the house.

Recently I saw an ad in the NYTimes for Como Audio offering internet connected radios. I spent ~$280 for a small radio, programmed Internet stations I knew and WOW - I'm back listening to classical music all the time. In fact, I'm listing to WCRB/WGBH in Boston that I listened to all the time for the 30 years we lived there before coming to California.

So maybe it just takes something that provides the right "product" to revive interest.

But there is another thread here - cars. Like you, Mike, I like cars but today's cars are mostly boring. What does it take to renew interest? Well, maybe it's a few laps in a modern, computerized AI-driven car to renew the interest. Maybe I'll try that next...

Me to. I am planning on leaving the industry (sales/training) soon as it bears little resemblance to the past home of my passion. I think to stay interested in any way, I need to leave retail (mostly video/drones/firmware support) and switch to just taking photos when it suits and how I like. I still feel relevant in my self, but not main stream any more.

One of your best posts ever. I’ve been thinking similar things too and my conclusion is “back to the classics”: more books of the many good old photographers, less gear. Though I have found very good young contemporary photographers that is the exception.

The state of photography is like that new Fujifilm X100V:
50% latest technology, 50% nostalgia.

The interesting thing to me is that there are an amazing amount of people that used to be in all creative fields that have moved on and could care less! I'm talking about not only photographers, but designers, illustrators, etc.

I've been forced into early retirement much sooner than I would have wanted, and I hated digital, just did it because I had to to stay employed, but now I could care less about taking any pictures, even tho I have a bunch of film in the freezer!

There is always what I refer to as the "ADHA" photographer i.e. the "prosumer" that just can't stop constantly taking pictures, like it's an illness. Can't talk to them. The constant bombardment of digital photography has devalued photography on all levels, and these "types" are partly to blame. I have friends that ten years ago had galley representation and were getting two grand for platinum/palladio prints, and now would be lucky to get 200 bucks! It's the end of an era, all destroyed by volume and lack of quality.

Tried to get a fabulous designer I know, who was also forced into early retirement, to enter what looked to be a pretty interesting poster contest. He had the computer, the printers, and everything; but he said he'd rather watch old movies and garden. Even if you aren't getting money out of something, the lack of respect for quality and design, or the lack of ability to recognize it, means it is now not worth your time to even try! There is zero "real" reward! At least that's what a lot of people I know think.

The only thing that interests me now, is if I find a subject I think has value, I might want to photograph it, write about it, and self publish a Blurb book about it. The individual photograph as an art form, always in a tenuous position, is gone!

Late to the party, but I was out over the weekend shooting up and down the California Coast. I was taking a break while at the "Field of light" Bruce Munro art installation: https://www.sensoriopaso.com/

I had a bystander comment that I should be able to take pretty good pictures with my camera - A Canon T6S and 15-85 EF-S lens. I immediately said that his iPhone did a pretty good job at this particular event. I did not even bother to defend my DSLR. I should have at least pointed out that his iPhone would be useless the next day when my DSLR was getting pictures of sea otters out in the water with my 600 mm lens.

While some branches of photographic opportunity have withered — try getting a job at a newspaper — the world of art photography is booming: for example, we’re in the golden age of photo book publishing. The new technology has made small editions of 500 or 1,000 books not only viable, but transformed self-publishing into the vanguard of photo book production: remember when self-publishing was considered vanity publishing? No longer.

Today, the best and most original photo books are self published, and the sheer number of editors of fine books has increased by many multiples, with the titles published in Japan about equal the total of the rest of the world. And with the most inventive and original photo book designs coming out of the Netherlands, followed closely by those from Japan. It’s an exciting world for photographers and others involved in designing, producing, distributing and collecting photo books.

That’s the route I’ve taken. After years of photographing and trying to put together photo book dummies, corresponding by email with a Brazilian photographer who teaches fotografia autoral (autoral photography) at MOMA/São Paulo, I asked, “do you think the world needs another photo book like mine”? He responded, The better question is, do you need this book?

Six months later, I had a photo sequence that I thought I did need in a book. I then lucked out and, through a series of circumstances, ended up with a well-known designer, hand bookbinder and lithographer from the Netherlands, whom I’ve taken to call the Hollander Dream Team.

The book, Frog Leaping, was introduced during Paris Photo last November and I had a book signing at Polka Galerie in Paris, on the same program with William Klein, Joel Mayerowitz, Bruce Glidden, Sebastião Salgado and others. The book is going into a few competitions, and we'll see...

Now, I'm continuing with my photography and formulating a new book project, depending on where my photography takes me. No point in worrying about the “state of photography”.

Change the mode of analysis, though, and the conclusions change. Less linear, more cyclical. Now how does the future pan out?

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