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Not Waving, Drowning – Or Are We?

Posted by SiteAdmin , 23 November 2007 · 2165 views

Photography: To Many Photos?
Not Waving, Drowning – Or Are We?
As photo enthusiasts, are our images doomed to be swallowed up in a sea of point-and-shoot snaps and camera phone pics?

Better Photography is a magazine aimed at keen photo enthusiasts, most of whom have developed some degree of expertise in their chosen hobby and have invested an appreciable amount of time – and often money – in its pursuit.

In other words, it caters to a small minority of camera users.

And with the advent of the ubiquitous camera phone, this minority, although growing in number, is drastically shrinking in proportion to the majority of people actually taking photos every day.

So, why should we care?

The answer lies in the danger that this gigantic expansion in the numbers of images swimming around in Society will degrade our visual environment. And degrade it to such a degree that the mass of the population will lose the ability to appreciate outstanding images, or even simply ones of good quality.

In the amorphous mass of this burgeoning image mountain, so the argument goes, photos will become merely throwaway ephemera, quick optical fixes to view then discard in favour of the next new image, fast-food pictures that briefly tickle our visual tastebuds but are light on nourishment and essentially unsatisfying.

Fast food photos can give you indigestion

Like photographic Big Macs, we consume images in ever increasing quantities, through advertising, television, and of course, the internet. And as the lifespan of these images grows ever more brief, the incentive to produce work that will stand the test of time is inevitably reduced. We're already seeing this in the professional ranks, where clients are unwilling to spend money on photographs that will rapidly need replacing with newer ones: the days of "Kleenex Photos" – use once then throw away - are well and truly with us…

What does this mean for photo enthusiasts who value photographic skills and the art of photography?

The pessimistic view is that this huge growth of images (and particularly photographic images) together with their pervasive impact on our lives will simply overwhelm our visual sensibility. Our ability to discriminate between good and bad will become blurred as we substitute novelty for quality. When everything is so temporary, so quickly replaced, why concern ourselves that it is of a poor standard? Look, here is a new one…

But there is an alternative view

Perhaps it's not all doom and gloom. There are some of us who take a positive view of the technological developments and tremendous growth in the numbers of people creating images over the last few years. We see these changes as opening up amazing opportunities for keen photo enthusiasts that have never before been remotely possible.

Rather than drowning outstanding work in a sea of mediocrity, many of us believe that the growing influence of pictures (as opposed to words) in our lives could result in quality images standing out more obviously from the dross surrounding them.

What's more, whereas previously only a small number of photographers saw their images published or exhibited, now it is possible for any one of us to show our photos to the world via the internet. And millions are taking advantage of this already, as evidenced by the popularity of file-sharing websites such as Flickr and YouTube, not to mention the growth of photo-blogs and individuals' personal websites.

Of course, the problem here is that of the single raindrop being lost in the ocean. But that is an oversimplification of what is actually going on. As Web 2.0 technology becomes more sophisticated, broadband access accelerates and the internet penetrates ever further into non-geek daily life, we're finding people are looking for online communities built around common purposes and interests. In addition, individuals don't "live" in just a single community, they are often members of several, and may play different roles in each, "lurking" in one, perhaps being an extremely active member of another.

Inhabit the neighbourhood, live in the world

As photographers, we're obviously interested in being members of online communities that are photography orientated. And just as we like to feel comfortable with our friends and the places we go to in our everyday "real" life, so we look for internet communities where we can feel at home. Although our online friends and neighbours can be spread all over the world, they seem close, just the other side of our computer's screen, especially when talking to us via SKYPE or chatting to us on Instant Messenger.
When we put our images on a website, anybody online anywhere on the planet is just one or two clicks away from seeing them. Of course, in theory hundreds of millions of people could view our work. But in practice it will be those in our own online neighbourhood that are likely to see our photos, at least in the beginning.
And that's the beauty of it, and why this new era offers photographers much greater opportunities than ever before.
From the comfort of our own home, with just a few clicks of the mouse, we can share our photos with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people within our own "local" online community. And of course, we may well be a member of several such communities, as mentioned earlier. Beats turning up with some prints at the local camera club!

Show your snaps, learn new stuff, help others

The opportunities are endless. We can offer our pictures for critique, enter competitions (no problem sending in entries!), put on our own online exhibition in our own or someone else's web gallery, even publish our own online coffee-table book (and arrange to have it printed on demand as a real physical publication) - there are many ways in which we can get our photos into the public eye and appreciated, at little or no cost.

And that's in addition to learning new techniques, obtaining valuable information – in my case, I've had great tips from fellow photographers who have visited places I'm going to shoot – and also giving back to the community by helping other snappers with your own experience and opinions.

So keen photo enthusiasts like Better Photography readers needn't worry about their minority status. Far from drowning in a sea of camera phone and other digital images, there's nothing stopping us from sailing across it in fine style with all flags flying! Because now we have more opportunities than ever before to reach out to others with our photographic work.

Incidentally, it's amazing how photos that capture the imagination of people can rapidly achieve a blizzard of page-views as news of them passes along the internet grapevine!

Tony Page

Tony Page is a professional photographer, writer and web designer now living in Sydney, Australia. His commercial clients are currently distracting him from his latest venture, the "Travel Signposts" website (http://www.travelsignposts.com) which contains information, resource links and over 12,000 photos of European and Mediterranean tourist destinations to help plan a European tour or river cruise. And the shots of the Christmas trip.

From my article in Better Photography magazine, 2007.

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