I, The Painter
Mix the colours
of golden apricot
and Spring cabbage
Lay the mixture
on the warmest paper
Create a melee
of contortionate light.
This is the process of painting.
Written July 1970
Painting was where I started all those years ago.
Yet photography has always been close to my heart. I remember getting my first serious camera (a Pentax KX) shortly after leaving University. I was later lucky enough to become a Nikon devotee, and still am.
In 1990’s digital started to appear. The Nikon D1 broke all the rules, and helped to make digital accesible, professional and mainstream.
Now of course it is almost all digital – no messy chemicals, no risks with the film, instant pictures which are infinitely modifiable.
Not just professionals, but all of us now have the ability to fix things later. We do not need to just rely on the moment of capture. Photoshop takes care of that.
“Clone out the weeds, the detritus”.
But it’s not just the transformation from film to digits. It’s the transformation in the device we use to capture the image. We have the iPhone to thank for an enormous explosion in photographic creativity. The latest Apple TV Ad notes that there are more pictures taken every day on an iPhone than on any other device. Is that true? I think I can believe it.
Is there a debate any more? You still hear purists saying:
“Mobile is killing serious photography”
“The world has gone LoFi” – not just the music but also the images.
I think that’s nonsense.
It’s still true that some understanding of the basics of photography are essential to creating good images.
Is the subject in focus? Handling the backlight? When to fill-in with flash? What is the rule of thirds? How do you manage depth of field?
It’s not just the camera settings, though. How many filters do you have on your phone?
They might just be simple auto fixes – but then we can grunge things, make them “noir”, pointillist, artistic.
So the devices have changed. And the way we process has changed.
But perhaps the biggest difference is how we now share images.
Do you post to Facebook? Google? Instagram? Flickr? 500px? EyEm? Oggl? Blipfoto?
Do you post in carefully constructed albums, or for instant sharing?
I remember the mantra of “Good subject, good light and good composition”.
Today, that seems to become questions such as “Share with who, and with which filter”?
“Create a melee of contortionate light” I wrote all those years ago. And that’s still true today. The light is constant – that is the artistic given.
But the melee has changed.
The melee is the sharing.
Despite this change, behind every good photograph, the purpose of the image is still the central question. What is the photographer trying to portray? What emotion is being elicited? What information is being imparted to the viewer?
Isn’t that still true, when you share to Facebook?
Why are you sharing? What are you sharing? What response do you expect?
This sharing leads to another massive shift – the “instant” critique of the picture. Whatever you upload, there is no going back. No fiddling in the darkroom. The image is there. Public. And it is voted upon.
Is it liked? Loved? Commented upon?
Perhaps as well that Anselm Adams wasn’t subject to such stress.
All you can ever do is delete the image, and admit defeat. It’s now. Instant, and it’s public.
A kind of social polaroid. Fixed. Frozen. Locked. And either admired or ignored.
So, did digital kill the craft of photography? No, of course not. It simply spawned dozens of new crafts, and made a few unnecessary.
And is mobile killing quality?
No, the wisdom of crowds, and their appreciation or dislike push us to quality.
There has always been snapshots. Fodder for the processing lab. Instagram is home to a lot of rubbish.
But it seems to me that photography has never been creatively more alive
Images of all kinds. All genre. All styles. All in copious quantities.
Quality is getting better.
And our discernment of a powerful image has never been better.