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Monday, 28 August 2023


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I wouldn’t disagree with anything you wrote above. I wonder, however, if it’s possible that the public will come to understand how malleable visual images are - because they are creating and modifying images themselves - to the point where images that can’t be adjusted will, once again, be seen to possess qualities that a digital image doesn’t have? That a hand-produced print from an analogue source will gain value and perceived veracity because of its nature?

This could go further. Perhaps personal sworn testimony, by witnesses, will come to be more valued than commentary supported by video? Perhaps written, printed material will regain its status?

I don’t know, and it will take some years if it does happen. But I have a feeling that it might.

I don't know if this is the most apt analogy, but I'll give it a shot.

Practically everyone drives, right? But I don't think most people believe that they could actually drive in the Indianapolis 500, let alone win the race.

So if a photographer wants to create really good pictures, or create images that have a lasting impact, the photographer has to at least drive the oval track, and then ultimately win the race to go down in the annals. The guy in the Honda Civic doesn't apply.


Millions, and possibly billions, of people are splashing paper and canvas with watercolors, acrylic and oil paint, and more are using pencils and pens to draw. Of those, only a few rise to the top. Of those that rise to the top, and make it into museums, a minuscule number are considered "great."

Have you yet seen a cell phone photo that you'd consider "great," worthy of joining the pantheon of great photographs? I didn't think so. The difference is in deliberateness, intent and talent. A commenter on Kirk Tuck's blog (on a blog post somewhat parallel to yours) said that his wife takes cell phone photos and never looks at them. I do too. So does everybody else, because they are notes, not art works. My wife sends me to the grocery store to get something, and when I get there, I'm unsure of the brand she prefers, so I shoot the available brands with my cell phone and text the photo to her, and she picks one. That's really what cell phone photos are good for.

It's true that cell phones are wiping out snapshot cameras, which might reduce support for the camera industry, but I personally am not much interested in the camera industry. As long as there are good cameras out there -- and I don't see them disappearing altogether -- we will be fine.

Hi Mike, is it worth drawing parallels with painting? Did photography kill that, or change it?
Or other audio/visual media. Did streaming kill radio, or broadcast / free-to-air TV, or the cinema? Seems to have killed CDs, while LPs are making a bit of a comeback. Not sure about DVDs.
Looking forward to part B.

maybe film is the way back to the future for us foggies. and there i was contemplating selling my Nikon FM3a.

i still need something to futz over

my next photo club must include a dark room

whats old is new again

Mike: According to Pew Research and others, almost 90% of Americans now own a smartphone. Another 7–8% own cellphones. (I presume they're counting only adults.)

Correct. Among the 5-17 demographic, the proportion of smartphone owners exceeds 99 percent. (Burners not included.)

Mike: Everyone takes and shares pictures now. Photography certainly isn't ending in that sense; it's taken off like a rocket.

However, my own scientific survey indicates that 78 percent of all photos are selfies or snaps of family and friends made with the same people smirking at the lens in front of different backgrounds; another 16 percent are pictures of restaurant meals; and almost all the rest are pornographic. Images made as expressions of the photographer’s artistic intent continue to occupy a very rarefied niche.

Did you miss the part where you answered your question? "77,000 views" on Flickr? I have over 15K images at Flickr and my best hit has about 3500 views.
You have advantages but obviously quality is recognized by viewers. Tools, techniques, motives(?), and mostly our involvement with viewers is all very different now, but we all appreciate a good shot. If technical aspects are easier, it's still worth learning more than others. Luck and readiness are a much bigger part of your success now. Be prepared, shoot and hope.
I just want to say "Hey, look at that!".

The issue isn't photography. It's peoples attention spans, or lack thereof.

Fewer people seem willing to slow themselves to the speed required to appreciate anything complex. Like a complex visual. A complex novel. A complex film. A complex person.

This isn't new. And it hasn't finished yet. You, and many (if not most) of your readers are fortunate enough to have grown up in a slower time - and adapted to this hyper reality that we wake to every day.

It's not good. Or bad. It just 'is'. C'est la vie.

Most photographers who toil to produce something beyond the everyday snapshot resign themselves to that level of existence and (and devotion) that often borders on near anonymity; you incorporate whatever bits and pieces of status quo that best befits you, and carry on... I'm stating the obvious, of course. Thus has it always been, except as you delineated- it was more a set pattern of goals based on generational thinking, rather than near yearly transitions of platforms, technology and software. Now you hope for 15 seconds as opposed to 15 minutes, in a medium that is everything about prolonging and preserving time.

I wonder if there is an analogy between photography and writing. Handwritten texts are often, but not exclusively, now referred to as examples of calligraphy. Writing words that inform, educate, entertain, delight, stimulate thought, create and share emotions etc. still takes place in abundance via many methods which now are open to us all and not just to the scribes of former years. We do not think of writing as having ended, just a particular method as having in most cases been superseded. By analogy, photography is similar to calligraphy and what photography did and does in a specialised way is now done by other more readily available means and is perhaps best referred to now as image making, and, as with writing, may be good, bad, or indifferent. Just as we celebrate the democratisation of writing so we should celebrate the democratisation of image making.

Some of the best blog entries that I've come across were episodic and serial in nature. It's worked for soaps for years, so why not make a virtue of necessity?

In my Feedly, this post showed up right above this one: https://photorumors.com/2023/08/28/the-camera-market-is-booming/

I like Steve Edward’s point (in A Short Introduction to Photography) that talking about photography is a bit like talking about writing. Really what we should be reasoning about is the ‘uses’ of photography

At its peak in the 1980s Eastman Kodak employed around 145,000 people. In 2012 Instagram had 13 employees when Facebook bought the company for $1 Billion. I remember reading that at the time when FB bought IG, and wondering "what is Instagram" and holy-moly, why is it worth $1B? Technology changes and it sneaks up on all of us. Remember at the turn of this century when digital photography was just getting started, how many fora members commented "I'll be shooting Tri-X forever" or "this digital thing is a fad"? In the blink of an eye Kodak was bankrupt, and Zuckerberg's seemingly foolhardy spend for a phone image sharing startup proved to be an astute financial move.

With the advent of the smartphone and soapboxes for everyone to stand upon and show their work (or perhaps just blindly shout at the wind), I have taken to going back to what I know and learned in school. I shoot monochrome images with manual focus lenses and make black & white prints. I do not have to care how many likes, hearts, or smiley faces I get. The prints satisfy me, and will be around long after I am gone.

Thirteen years ago SFMoMA held a weekend-long symposium with the same title: Is Photography Over. The panel was composed of academic and art world "luminaries" (few of whom know an f-stop from a door stop) and approached the topic from a predictable 30,000 foot navel-gazing level. There were a few thought gems dropped along the way but for the most part it was a pure gas attack to most any onlooker from outside art academia.

The point I'm leading to is that nearly any category of endeavor can be debated under such a boundless question. (These days, writing is the main target -- "Is Writing Over in an Age of AI?") Is Painting Over? Is Driving Over? Is Sanity Over?

Change always leaves practical and emotional orphans in its wake. Photography's past practices and chemical wonders were such fulfilling, and emotionally / financially sustaining environments to so many older folks. Of course today's photography feels "over" to so many. But photography is certainly anything BUT "over". In fact it's become more deeply ingrained into world culture now than ever. But under very different terms.

Good article and comments. It occurs to me that credible veracity of images, given the increasingly competent generation by AI, is significantly enhanced by the use of film capture. The almost inevitably scanned photograph’s credibility can be quickly (depending on one’s filing system) verified by producing the original negative or, less commonly these days, slide. Of course, falsification of analogue capture is and has always been possible, but still requires skills well beyond issuing a set of AI instructions. So, put another way, if I want to be able to say, “this is what it looked like at that given instant,” I need to be using film more often. Especially going forward.

On the subject of printing, it was my God-daughter's 18th birthday the other month. I have known her and her elder brother and sister since they were born and have effectively been the 'family photographer'.

So I put together a 48-page photo book of her life. She was thrilled and so were the family. So I did one for her brother and sister too. They loved them.

Not great art perhaps, nor a wide audience, but it's a gift that should last a lifetime and remind them of me long after I have gone.

I have a few random thoughts, if you don’t mind me jumping around…

(1) Yes, with smart phones countless photos are taken every day. But I don’t think this is diminishing the value of photography as an art form. There is a vast difference between the photography of the everyday snapshot, and Photography as a creative discipline. Consider writing — billions of words are written every day. But that doesn’t mean that Writing as a creative discipline is “becoming nothing special.”

(2) I consider myself an art photographer, and I rarely show my work in galleries. But that is because I find galleries to be a really poor way to connect with buyers and make sales.

(3) Over 77,000 people saw your photograph? That is amazing! Your creation has had a far greater impact and reach than it ever would have if it had been a print in the museum. A JPEG may not be “artistic” as a paper print, but its potential impact is so much greater.

(4) As for AI eroding the public’s trust in the veracity of photographs, I agree this will happen. But I wonder — maybe it’s about time. Photographs have never been about the objective truth. Maybe it is a good thing for people to learn that, and begin to explore the far greater subjective possibilities of this art form.

I’m really glad that photography is “only” a hobby for me. I can use my Fuji 690III loaded with Tri-x and enjoy a nice relaxing experience, within the constraints of a chemical process. Too many people seem compelled to demonstrate that their sliders go all the way to 11.

Is John Camp serious?

Couldn't disagree more on this topic. Photography is for the photographer and no one else. Photography which someone pushs/hypes/markets is for financial gain.
I do not include commissioned/non-commissioned newspaper/documentary work, that continues but at a much reduced rate because of the internet which allows the people affected/in situ to post their photos/videos.
The photography I take will not disappear because more people have smartphones, will yours.
Why do people HAVE TO see your photos, they are for you and if they are not then you want to monetise them and so it sucks that you now have more competition from millions more wannabes and AI users. I do NOT care about the monetisers.
Maybe in the golden age of NIKON/CANON purchasers were simply thinking they could be the next big thing and with the Tech improvement/price drops/smartphones that aspiration has been blown up and those of us left are buying for US.
It is a crude measure but if you aren't printing your photos you are truly into photography as art. You need to want to take your raw image and develope it and find the settings/paper that makes your image come to life.
Unlike the costs and physical requirements of a wetroom, digital developing and printing is attainable by all. If you aren't, you are not a true photographer as you do not control YOUR image nor do you even try.
Vivian Maier was a true photographer, she had passion and she took her photographs for herself.
It shocks me that Mike uses someone else to print (which I read as develope/tweak) his image when he has such a photography background including wetroom etc. I cannot imagine ever doing that.
Maybe I have lost the plot but photography is something seen with my eye and when I take it I know what I want to see when I print it. Its personal it may not set the world on fire but it is mine. "photographing is fast becoming nothing special" I ask to whom is my photography becoming nothing special!

Digital camera sales have not declined they have increased massively. Phones are cameras.

I remember an image which was in the top ten of all time on photo.net when it was a massive site but there were fewer websites then and no inst etc. Views are now spread over a gazillion more people and anyway the image wasn't that amazing. I was on the net since about 1997 using mosaic and photoshop.
Rant over.

I guess owning and using a ‘real’ camera now is like driving a stick shift Miata. Perhaps it’s more about the experience as much as being about the outcome.

I’m often surprised when I click on a link to this fine blog that it’s still around. the median age of your readers has to be north of 60.

[85,972,558 lifetime pageviews, 8,705 total posts, and yours is the 258,618th comment.

Oh, and the average 60-year-old knows four times as much as the average 20-year-old. (But moves only 1/3rd as fast.) --Mike]

I am not particularly worried.

I recall that similar concerned were voiced in the early 1970d about the hordes of new 35mm film "artists", basically concerns that everyone who could afford to take their film to a decent lab rather than process and print their BW film was somehow an artist. That did not wipe out creative photography. In retrospect, those 1970-1985 years are seemingly a golden age of serius creative photography and photography's prominence within the constellation of the arts.

About 20 years later, the same concerns were voiced again about digital imaging, yet again no disaster occurred among working commercial photographers except among photojournalists, who were largely wiped out by a variety of reasons coming together in a perfect storm.

AI should not be keeping art photographers awake at night, either, at least not at this point. AI output tends to be dependent upon the material with with it is trained.

As I result, my sense is that AI-generated images will be recursive and mediocre artistically because the AI is trained upon general Net imagery and that's not exactly a hotbed of serious art or quality imaging. Indeed, virtually all of the imagery found on the Net is low quality and imitative. I suggest that AI imagery will tend to spiral downward due to a training algorithm that will bury anything creative under tons of junk, basically the lowest common denominator.

There'll always be room for someone who is able to break the mold. Painters can produce images on a canvas of virtually everything that they could imagine, but even 50 or 80 years after photography was invented, a mold-breaking creative painter like Van Gogh or Picasso can rise to the top.

To quote"
"photographing is fast becoming nothing special or distinctive simply because everyone does it, about like everyone eats, breathes, and poops. It's a part of daily existence and fast becoming nothing at all special. Photographers used to be respected, because, through hard-won skill and knowledge and practice, they could do things ordinary people couldn't. But the status of having specialized knowledge and skill has been evaporating for years now."

Was that quoted verbatim from a letter from one tintype or wet plate photographer to another in 1888 commenting on the introduction of the Kodak Box camera?

Any idea how many billions of snapshots have been taken with "box" cameras of friends and families and tourist spots (remember the Kodak picture spot signs?) over the last 135 years? Maybe not as many as smartphone photos but certainly many and for the same basic reason - sharing with friends and family.

I believe that for most people, photos are memories. I remember 20 years ago when I had a long argument with a gallery owner about whether photography was an "art." Museums have certainly helped answer that question, especially the Getty. But most people don't consider themselves artists, or even documentarians - they just collect memories.

I'm unconvinced that any technological change in photography has affected the mix of those photographers who consider themselves professionals, art photographers, lovers of technical gadgets (those that Thom Hogan recently noted were the ones trading in cameras with very few shutter actuations who just buy gadgets like cameras as toys), documentarians or just snap shooters.

Certainly digital cameras have affected how many pictures are taken because they are free and how many are shared because it can be done online for free. But of those billions of digital photos taken by smartphones for example, how many are ever seen by anyone but the photographer. Or does the photographer even "see" them before they upload them to social media.

I think I'm just about as happy with my photography as I've ever been.

Recently I've bought three cheap manual focus Chinese lenses (Syoptic 50mm f1.1, TTArtisan 50mm f2 and Pergear 35mm f1.4) and they're very small and cheap and light and I love using them. Also the latest version of photoshop is for me quite a leap over what I was using before and this combination of small cheap fun to use lenses and new software really has made a difference to me.

Lots of interesting comments to this post. I figured I'd read some before commenting myself.

Will von Dauster's comment about film being less prone to falsification may turn around some people's thinking. If they don't want to be called a fake on social media, they will post the print and the negative.

Few people know how to falsify a film negative so that it's difficult to tell that it's not completely "real". Fiddling with image processing software is (relatively) easy. Retouching is difficult. Most people will take the easy way of doing things.

Malcolm Myers' comment about the photo book he presented to his God-daughter is a perfect example of why most of us don't need social media for validation.

Let's face it; most of us take more "snapshots" than artful photos. Even the most skilled photographer will take "snapshots" of family and friends -- even if those snapshots are excellent photos. Photos of family are going to mean more to most of us than other artistic photos.

louis mccullagh raised some good points: "Photography is for the photographer and no one else. Photography which someone pushs/hypes/markets is for financial gain."

"Its (sic) personal it may not set the world on fire but it is mine."

ChrisC commented, "Perhaps it’s more about the experience as much as being about the outcome."

I find that I take more unusable shots with digital, compared to film. Mostly just to see how one particular setting will make the photo look. (Too much of a change or not enough? Hopefully, just right.)

Kenneth Tanaka commented, ". . . nearly any category of endeavor can be debated under such a boundless question."

I agree. We can debate, or we can get outside and take photos!

I have long thought that the practice of photography (both in its professional and hobby/amateur forms) has been steadily approaching an analogy of the practice of writing. Basic literacy is very common. Reading and writing are very common parts of most people's daily routine, whether for work or for pleasure. Likewise the tools of writing (even great writing) can be very simple, easy to use, and widely available. But there remains a substantial space between literacy and mastery, and I think there remains a fair amount popular respect for mastery of writing; a common understanding that writing a great novel or poem requires quite a bit more skill and practice than simply stringing together a comprehensible communication, even if we can all type just fine and know how to spell.

Of course, AI will probably blow up the practice of writing just as much as photography, but that's not anything specific to either writing or photography.

I sometimes ask myself if other artists and hobbyists wonder/worry so much about how their brush or paper provider survives…

Mike - you've mirrored my own thoughts and I've felt it for a while. Photography as I knew it collapsed a long time ago (film & darkroom) but for the moment, there are still people buying film, still sniffing fixer and still making prints. I do it purely for my own enjoyment. I process and store as archivally as possible and I have no idea what will happen to 30-odd years worth of stuff when I pop my clogs. I seem as archaic as a hand-pulled plough. But it is what I know and what I do. As long as I can still buy materials and still see, I'll still keep on. I've never sold a print or indeed made a bean from photography, but I still love it. I think you're right though, it's become trivial to 99.9% of the general public . . so what. If you love it, keep on. Try and curate and add some gravitas to your life's work, that way, when you die, it is going to be hard for someone to throw it in a skip. It might just survive . . but if it doesn't, no matter. You've loved what you have done.
Greetings from Auld Scotia!

If photography does end, at least you have all the other subjects to write about (they sometimes seem to be crowding out the photography - maybe you are preparing for the end?). Not that I'm complaining you introduced me to WFPB (and the Instant Pot), and I'm a lot healthier than I was.

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