Robert K Wilson

Photography is Dead

 If that headline stopped you in your tracks you can imagine how I felt when I heard it. It sent a cold shiver through me and for a beat I must have looked a little blank.  I was having some photographs framed at a warehouse for an up coming exhibition and I asked if they ever sold photographs in their art shop in town. The reply came back quite swiftly "No," he said, "my boss says that photography is dead."  Well, we all know that photography as we know it is definitely not dead but it is true that photography as wall art is not very highly regarded in most Scottish galleries, apparently it does not sell well.
I have been thinking a great deal about photography recently and had already started this blog. That comment certainly focused my mind to think a little faster and more clearly. The massive and exciting change in the technology used to capture and process photographs and the fact that it is now accessible to almost anyone has changed the whole nature of taking photographs and presenting photography.  Everyone is now a photographer with easy access to making, editing, printing and sharing photographs around the world. Does it affect me?  It must, I suppose, because it gives me the same possibilities. The thing is, I am not that type of photographer, I never have been. I was always in trouble for not taking enough family photographs when my daughter was growing up and a quick look through my Facebook history (which in itself is quite short) or a scan through my Twitter account and you will not find many photographs.  I have probably taken more photographs and video on my iPhone this year than ever before — something I said I'd never do - but to me they are pleasing record shots not in any way a representation of who I am as a photographer or the type of photographs I am looking to make.

During my photographic career there have been many changes in cameras and equipment, the most massive being from film to digital. Nearly all the changes have had a beneficial effect for me though, it is also true that, some will have had a gently eroding affect on the things that I could do that others could not. Photography is no longer a 'black art' a 'mysterious skill.'

When the first automatic 35mm cameras appeared (auto exposure only, not auto focus at that point) some clients were concerned for my welfare. They felt that I would have a lot more competition now that photography was more accessible. I suppose that in some areas of commercial photography that may have been true. Ninety percent of my professional photography was shot on large format plate cameras or Hasselblads so it made little or no impact on me.  I have always believed that it has very little to do with the camera and is all about what happens in front of the lens. Probably the biggest threat has been from on-line photographic libraries where, quite often, a brief can be fulfilled by the client using an image costing a few pounds or dollars.

In October last year National Geographic celebrated one hundred and twenty-five years of exploration with The Photography Issue. Robert Draper (a contributing writer to the National Geographic)  quoted the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who "sourly prophesied a banal fate for the newly popularised art of photography". This was thirty-four years before the National Geographic was first issued. "With the daguerreotype,"  Kierkegaard observed, "everyone will be able to have their portrait taken — formerly it was only the prominent — and at the same time everything is being done to make us all look exactly the same, so we shall only need one portrait."

I find it fascinating that almost one hundred and sixty years ago similar questions and concerns were being raised about the future of photography.
There is more concern about the future of photography among working photographers.  Kirk Tuck from the Visual Science Lab has written quite a lengthy piece about it called;

'The graying of traditional photography and why everything is getting re-invented in a form we don't understand.'

You can read it here - http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-graying-of-traditional-photography.html
Of the many points he makes about how quickly things are changing here is one;

"This is not to say that photography is dying. Or that the generations coming behind us are doomed to failure and despair; far from it. They are living the golden age of photography from their perspective, and their heroes in the field are names we don't even know. This is a generation that values a personal vision that arrives as quickly as a phone call and has a much shorter half life than the one we experienced for our work, but then again, what doesn't move faster these days?"

Photography will never die. How the image is captured and how it is used after that will continue to evolve and no doubt surprise us. For the camera makers and for those who work in photography it is another major shake up.  It is not the first time and it is not confined just to photography.  Many other manufacturers and companies are going through exactly the same process only this time it is moving a lot faster and cutting that bit deeper.


© Robert  K  Wilson