4.03.2015

Is the Art of Photography "dead"?


While browsing random Flickr forums one day, I came across a thread about how to make photos better with Auto mode. Now, with any topic of interest, there will always be some self righteous douchebag that has to take a seemingly simple question and turn it into a drawn out religious lecture. So this guy writes out a long paragraph about how "photography is dead". As you might expect, he got his fair share of backlash from the posters on the thread and continued to ramble back and forth with some of them.

Now, I'm not saying that he wasn't a self righteous douche monkey, being a buzz kill for these people who just wanted some sound advice about Automatic mode on cameras, but at the same time, I fully agree with his plea. Photography, in a sense, is kind of a dead art. Not because it is literally 'dead'--meaning it's unpopular, but on the contrary. Photography went from being a "professional" hobby to a mass consumer demand. These DSLR's that most of us know about were not really something eminent in the consumer markets a decade ago. If you were lucky, you owned an advanced point and shoot camera but that was about it. Another example would be MAC cosmetics. They went from being a professional makeup brand to a consumer makeup brand. And in the same fashion, the art of makeup has gotten a little lost as well.

Is it to say that when anything becomes popular, the beauty of it dies off? And if so, why is that?


It's less about it being so 'popular' and more about it being 'easier'. Photography started with film--not to mention temporary film, that would wear off within a few minutes. We've advanced ten fold since then. Not only do we have film to preserve these images in a tangible form, but we have instant film too. And today, almost everything is shot digitally. Digital makes everything easier. In the photography world, many analog shooters will shoot digitally, but much prefer shooting film because it actually takes more effort. There is a beauty and art behind developing film and I see a valid point in at least respecting the art of photography, for what it originally was.

I think the problem with Photography today is that most people who have a baller camera do not respect the art of photography. Anyone with money can buy a professional level DSLR camera. And it's nice to show off that you can afford that kind of gear, but what's the point of it just collecting dust? You might as well just take a photo of a stack of bills. Point is, cameras advanced but as one of my Photo professors once told me, "It's not about what the camera sees. It's about what the shooter sees." Cameras don't even matter. They are simply the medium. It's like giving a person who can't draw, an easel and paint brush kit worth $1,000. Most likely they wouldn't produce anything worth looking at. But give that same person a drawing application on a tablet, that depicts an image based off whatever shape you make. That's what's become of Photography.

As a disclaimer, and I've stated this many many times on this blog, but I am not a "photographer" myself. This is just my hobby. But I appreciate photography for what it is--it's an art form. Maybe being a designer innately makes me appreciate all art forms. Either way, I understand that Photography is so much more than just pointing a camera at something and pressing down the shutter release button. But even as I read through Photography articles, browse through Flickr daily, and try and figure out how to use Manual mode to no avail.......my photography is still shit. And that's because it's an art form that I have not perfected. It's an art form that I haven't practiced. Shooting a thousand photographs does not make me a photographer. It does not make me an artist in that sense. But these days, that's all people need to make themselves believe that they have the 'street cred' to get paid as a photographer. It's a great hobby and a great way to make some side money, but the art form does get lost when something can be simply monetized.

Christopher Nolan, the director of "The Dark Knight" trilogy, shoots in film only. His reasoning behind it is that he believes film gives off a raw effect that digital simply cannot replicate. It's a certain look and feel that can only be achieved by using film. Maybe this is debatable, but the point is, there is a beauty behind film cinematography that Christopher Nolan appreciates. It's not that he's so snobby and thinks digital is bad. It is his preference. But you might ask why? I mean, digital can be edited and virtually any look can be achieved. Why go through the hassle of shooting in film, knowing that the process takes much longer? Not to mention, mistakes are less forgivable in the sense that we're talking about shooting on a tangible roll of film, versus having a digital file that you can simply erase. That just means more cutting ("splicing" as they call it) and more work. Perhaps it's more challenging, but Christopher Nolan is no small fry in the cinema industry. His movies often have an alluring vibe to them and it's purposeful. This is his style. He mastered it and is known for it. That, to me, is a true 'artist'.

Photography isn't "dead" in my opinion. It's just like any other art form. It simply becomes more easily accessible, and so, the appreciation for it gets a little lost. A decade ago, sixteen year old girls weren't flocking to the nearest Sephora or MAC cosmetics store to spend hundreds of dollars on "professional" level makeup. When Youtube gurus became a thing, that's when girls started understanding that anyone can achieve that professional / model like made up face. Just drop a couple of Ben's and you too can be an 'at-home' make up artist. This isn't to sound demeaning. I say this because I am one of those girls. I've spent over a thousand dollars, easily, on cosmetics over the last five years. I've even done a couple of gigs for friends and photoshoots. If I tried harder, could I actually make some good money on the side as a "makeup artist"? Probably. But I'm not really a makeup artist. I don't know much about makeup or blending and all that. I just know how to make people look pretty.

My point is, it's okay to just accept the fact that DSLR's are no longer just a Photographer's sidekick and that these once professional cameras are now available to the mass consumer market. It's okay to accept that going even further, applications like Instagram, make it even easier for anyone to be a 'photographer'. It's okay to accept that 'professional' tools (Photoshop / Makeup / Cameras, etc) are no longer just for those who are certified. I know all too well. Anyone with Photoshop is a "designer". Believe me, I understand the conflict from both sides. As a consumer, I too will indulge in these 'professional' tools even if I am not a professional at these trades. There is no reason to be elitist but not everyone is claiming they are a professional either. Just relax. I always school those who think they understand graphic design just because they bootlegged Adobe Suite. And if you're a photographer, you can teach someone a thing or two about being behind a camera. The art of Photography is alive and well, just a little lost. Instead of being snobby, be informative. Share your passion and your trade. That's how the art stays alive.

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