As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of those rapidly dwindling relics from the old school – a photographer who has actually set foot inside a dark-room, and who knows the difference between Fuji Velvia and Ilford HP5.
Coming from the film, into the digital era, means I’ve seen a lot of change happen in the industry as a whole – quite arguably the most change that has ever happened over any period during it’s nearly 2 centuries of existence.
But the thing that strikes me and annoys me the most (Hmm, and there are actually quite a few other things too, but I’ll leave those for now), is that whereas photographers were once exactly that: “Photo…” (originating from “photon”, and the use of light) – “…grapher” (meaning, to draw or illustrate) i.e. someone who uses light to create images – that definition represents only a small fraction of what modern “photographers” do!
In yesteryear, we went outside (often), used light to capture an image in the camera, then went inside, into the darkroom, and used light to print the picture.
Today, we go outside (maybe), then go to our computers, download, process, edit, cut, paste, clone, warp, rasterize, interpolate, merge, and drag curves – all while Facebooking, Tweeting, and Pinning the results in countless “places” that don’t have a physical location, and hoping that people we don’t really know or care about, will “like” them.
We also have to build websites, blogs, and pages, and therefore design logos, banners, promotional materials. We surf the interwebs to checkout new equipment online, read reviews and opinions, watch YouTube, and research trendy techniques, as feverishly as a paranoid OCD sufferer, to make sure that we have not slipped behind the advancing curve of what’s technologically “essential”, while a cascade of shitty pictures rain down on us from Instagram, telling us what’s like-worthy and what’s not, all based on the monumentally fleeting impulses of people, the world over, who have never operated a proper camera, and who think that boobs, or a kitten combined with a Lo-Fi filter is art!
We Google, we Flickr, Tumbl, and generally we run around the internet like bunch of Yahoos.
The Web is exactly that – a web. Because millions of people are caught inside a sticky situation from which they are struggling to free their minds (if they even realise that they are trapped at all), and photographers, perhaps more than most, are susceptible, due to the transformation of our tools from chemical to digital.
Add to that, the problem of the proliferation of rapidly shared information online! …wait – isn’t that a good thing? Well, it is when that information is accurate and not in any way manipulative or bias. However, the internet, more than anything else it is used for, has been built around an immense surge of hype, purely for marketting marketing purposes. Yes, you can learn things and share information, but so seldom without someone wanting to sell you something – a product, an idea – in between moving from one page to the next, or being made to watch the first 5 seconds of a 30 second commercial. ( <— Seriously, who’s idea was that?!)
As a result, the online web we as photographers are tangled in, creates a mad scramble to clamber over one another to find recognition and admiration – and if you’re a professional, to find work and make a living. So additionally, photographers must be proficient in the complex and constantly changing ways of online marketing. We must optimise our websites, create countless community profiles, constantly update our content, interact with “followers”, place adverts, and therefore try to master Google’s ridiculously complex marketing tools! Because the more time you spend online tinkering with your Twitter, and Googling your Flickr, the more popular you’ll be and the more likely you are to be seen.
From this perspective, it’s really a sad state of affairs, because the pursuit of photography is now so far removed from its origins that we as photographers are in fact barely recognisable to those of only 15 years ago. As a modern photographer, I spend probably ten times less the amount of time and effort shooting than I do sat in front of my computer – either, like a Bowerbird, trying to build beautiful and alluring sites to attract admirers, or trying to find other ways to put the word out there that I’m a half-decent photographer with a few ounces of talent – so that my work will be picked and acknowledged despite the overwhelming mass of imagery that floods the internet every second of the day.
And the old-school kid inside me at times weeps in frustration, because his ideas of being a photographer seemed a lot less desk-bound than this. Yes, and every person who falls in love with photography has certain naive and romanticised expectations of what it’s all about, but many years after the honeymoon, many years into a relationship to which I’ve committed myself, and to something that I still love, at times I’m left asking myself why I often feel so lost and unfulfilled.
And the reason is this: I – the old fart photographer from the film era (I’m 35, by the way) – became a photographer to make pictures using light, and that process now represents only a tiny proportion of all the things I do today in order to call myself a proper photographer. Yes, there are marvellous, exciting, wonderful tools available today that we couldn’t even have dreamed of a decade ago – and yet more unimaginable tools just over the horizon! But I’m certain that the greater proportion of them will be purely digital tools, which will be only supplemental to the camera’s function of capturing light. This will thereby further sway the bias away from the actual physics of using light to make images, towards the virtual world of computing.
That saddens me a bit, because I know that the true meaning of “Photo-graphy” is getting lost in a whirlwind of other gadgets, gimmicks and hype, all of which are labelled and marketed vigorously under the same esteemed heading of “photography”
With the world of this “photography” having strayed deep into digital technology and the world of computing and the internet, at times (the 90% of the time I spend at my desk in front of my computer instead of out in the field, or in the studio operating a camera) I feel I should stop calling myself a Photographer, and instead use what I feel is a more apt, albeit tongue-in-cheek, description: “Cyborgrapher”