I like taking photographs. For the last few years, I’ve taken a lot of them with my various cameras, and even fancy myself to be something of a decent amateur photographer.
This photograph, which may or may not be a great photograph, was taken almost randomly the other day when I noticed the reflection of the old school in the glass of the new building. I think I had my iPhone in my hand and so I stopped, conjured up the Instagram App, and hit the magic button. I immediately posted it on Instagram, and by extension on Facebook and Twitter, and before long a few of my friends had said they liked it. I felt quite proud of myself.
So whether it’s a great photograph or not is hardly the issue. What made the taking of this photograph possible was nothing more complex or contrived than the fact that I was walking down a certain street with my “phone” in my hand.
It used to be that if I wanted to take some photographs, it was something of an event. I would make sure my camera was charged and I would pack it in my bag and off I’d go. It was a deliberate activity, and as I was thus engaged I found myself suddenly looking at the world through the eyes of a photographer.
But now, for me at least, it has become an essentially random activity, with hardly any thought or planning put into it whatsoever. The photograph is taken, and then shared with those who friends on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter — all told, for me at least, potentially about 2,000 people. All I’ve done is stopped, aimed and pushed a button. Because of the sun and the size of the screen and the state of my eyesight, I hardly know what I’m looking at, so when a photo turns out like the one above, all I can really say is that it’s a happy accident.
This is a very far cry from the learned sophistication and artistry and experience of the great photographers of history. I think of Eugene Atget, of Dorothea Lange, of Walker Evans, of Yousuf Karsh, to name a few, all of whom have created some of the most famous and enduring images in the history of the human race. I wonder if the technology and the availability of that technology that allows me to take the photograph above, almost with my eyes closed, means that we will never see their likes again. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, and the success of the photography is no longer judged in aesthetic terms but in terms of the number of “likes” a photograph generates. As for longevity, it would seem no longer to exist. Yesterday’s photographs are gone, you’re only as good as your next one. And when push comes to shove, it doesn’t really matter anyway because nothing is at stake for the person who takes the shot. The artist has been removed from the equation.
So my question is this: is photography as a fine art finished? Have Hipstamatic and Instagram and iPhones and digitization in general all conspired to kill the art of photography? Does this current set of circumstances almost ensure the photographer, as artist, as a household name, has vanished, never to be seen again?
And another thing . . . what about my camera that languishes in my bag, that I never bothered to take out to take the above shot? Is there any point any more in investing in another thing which is just another thing to lug around with you all day, day after day? Most of us have our phones on us at all times, and most of these phones now come with amazing cameras as a standard feature. They even shoot video, broadcast quality. For someone of my generation, ie pre-digitization, it’s hard to imagine the things we now take for granted.
The quality and affordability and ubiquity of these phones in part accounts for the profusion of images. We take them because we can. As they say, a million monkeys typing for a million years will eventually accidentally write Hamlet. So we get a few great photographs. Dear God, have we become the monkeys? Could a monkey take the shot above? Well, if I did without really seeing the screen, why would I think it couldn’t have been taken by a monkey? Can a monkey with an iPhone create “art?”
I’m not a Luddite. I like the photos I am taking on my iPhone. I am taking a lot more. I enjoy sharing them with my friends, and I like seeing the images others are coming up with.
Still, I can’t help but worry that something is lost, some level of care and artistry and permanence is being lost and seemingly, no one really cares.
Thanks for reading . . .