A few days ago Stuart Jeffries, writer for The Guardian, published an article titled, The Death of Photography: Are camera phones destroying an art form?, and the article was shared over seventeen thousand times. And why not? It was very well written.
Jeffries' article brings to light several interesting points about the changing climate of photography and its value today as compared to the past. Primarily, the concern that mass democratization of photography is hurting an industry that has been known for valuing technical and artistic experience - but also accused of being rather exclusive and esoteric.
Jeffries blames the camera phone. Should we really be surprised? Jeffries is not the first to point out that camera phones have literally TKO'd point-and-shoot cameras. Camera manufacturers have been hit so hard that they have scrambled to develop other devices, such as retro cameras, in hopes of not being completely fleeced (don't feel guilty for buying one... I own the Fujifilm X100S and it's a phenomenal system). But has the camera phone really been the harbinger of death for photography, or is it something altogether different?
Consider this - Antonio Olmos, the award-winning, London-based photographer that Jeffries interviewed, says, "Photographers are getting destroyed by the rise of iPhones. The photographers who used to make £1,000 for a weekend taking wedding pictures are the ones facing the squeeze. Increasingly we don't need photographers – we can do just as well ourselves." Olmos argues, that in the 1850s the rise of photography made many painters, who had previously made nice livings from painting family portraits, redundant (1).
If this is true, should we accept the continued sensationalism about the death of photography as an art form resulting from a modern marvel? Or has the true culprit been the very same thing all this time - the expansion of social mediums. Photography did not kill art. People's tastes changed and photography was another medium to express art.
If it was not the mobile phone, I argue, it would have been something else. Look at the news business as an example. Newspaper publishers started closing operations not long after the internet began to thrive. What about the postal service? Virtually bankrupt. What about literature? Ah huh! No one would argue with me that literature has gone by the way side. Narrow minded people would only blame the internet for doing this, but what about television programming? What about video gaming? Video gaming is becoming the big powerhouse in the entertainment industry. According to the Entertainment Software Association, "the video game industry posted strong sales in 2012, generating nearly $21 billion in revenue."
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Do you see where I'm going? What we should be concerned about is the rapid expansion of entertainment and mediums before something valuable is really destroyed - education. Some argue it is too late.
Photography, art, and literature have simply been dealt the cards they would have been dealt anyway with the rise of social networking and mixed-media. Art never died. Photography was not invented to kill art just as mobile phones were not created to kill photography. Not everyone with a mobile phone wants to be a professional photographer.
If mobile phones did not have built in cameras people would still be buying point-and-shoot cameras because they are simple to use and images are quickly shared. Some photographers would utilize them for professional wedding photography and portraits, just as many are utilizing the smaller, mirrorless cameras today.
Let's not forget, a camera is a tool. Any camera is a tool. You can make images with glasses now. We should be more concerned with why our educational systems are removing art and photography from the curriculum rather than proclaiming photography is dead.
Jeffries' article closes on a high note. "I'll survive in this profession because I have skills," says Olmos. "I'm a storyteller in images; my compositions are better than most people's. Just because you've got a microprocessor in your computer doesn't make you a writer. And just because you've got an Instagram app on your phone you aren't a great photographer."
Long live photography.
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