I’m very well read on the history and trends in photography starting with its discovery in 1839. (Really not that long ago in the grand scheme of things.) The original photographers were few in number, you had to be a scientist and tinkerer to make a photograph. The introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera by George Eastman in 1888 changed photography by putting photography into the hands of the non-technician, no need to be a chemist to make a photograph. In the 1970s automation became available in cameras. In the 1980s, auto-focus. In the 1990s, point and shoot simplicity.
Despite the innovations, the purpose of photographs never changed–to save a memory. To possess a moment frozen in time.
The more I shoot film, the more I print photographs by hand, the more I make photographs with the intention of framing and delivering them–actual photographs–and the more I look at photography in printed form (books, actual photographic exhibits), the more digital photos on online apps like Instagram, Facebook and the rest of them feel somehow less meaningful to me. Looking online at photographs feels unsatisfactory. A poor representation. Uninspiring.
It’s four inches wide on a phone and for a couple seconds. It’s not a great way to see photography. It’s not a strong presentation.
Making photos with film, especially when I hand-print them in an actual darkroom, has changed me, has made it so I can’t go back to the bland quantity of photographs viewed online, and instead I seek out the select quality ones, printed and displayed in some form.
Photography needs curation. All art does. Even my photographs. I don’t show everything, I’m a strong editor only showing my best work, that which tells the best stories. All good photographers are good editors. Less is truly more.
When it comes to experiencing photography, I’d rather peruse a photographic monograph, one photograph at a time printed well. Give me a book by Lee Friedlander or Robert Frank. Let me sit with a monograph by Vivian Maier or Helen Levitt or a history of photography collection. Let me see photographs that were created with the intention of being photographs.
AN EVOLUTIONARY CHANGE
For the first time in history, the intent of photographs has changed. Photography is different from what used to be snapshot/vernacular photography because its purpose is no longer to go back and reminisce. To possess a memory.
Its purpose now is now!
Now, they’re snaps of “what I’m looking at, who I’m with, where I’m sitting, here I am, look at me.” Nothing wrong with that, they serve their purpose.
We’ve gone from an art form that was about memories and turned it into one about real-time reporting. It used to be a specialized craft and now it appears as a quick glimpse.
None of today’s pictures will ever be displayed in a photography gallery or museum exhibit. Nor were they created to be.
I would suspect most people don’t consider their phone snaps to be actual photography. I bet they would even agree. “This is just my breakfast, or a shirt I want to show someone, or my lunch date.” They would admit they’re not photographers, they’re not trying to make photographs, just texting a picture to a friend.
It still sounds like photography nowadays, with all the talk of cameras, and camera upgrades, and camera this and camera that and the constant bombardment with promos, new features, camera reviews, Apple new product launch events, and new filters and apps, but it’s not.
It’s not photography in the original sense of the word. Its purpose has changed. To be here now. To share this second. Look at me. Don’t remember me, see me now!
Today’s image-making is delivered in real time, and as we are all addicted to our devices, we have no choice but to experience everyone’s photos as they’re being made. Not memories of family and friends to put a smile on our face, to jog a memory when we’re visiting each other or sharing dinner together at some future date thinking about the time we did that, or a photo on our desk or book shelf with a special day’s memory, but live streaming, a look into their lives now, their cameras are always on.
There are so many pictures, that’s the main thing. So many! It feels like it won’t ever stop. It can’t stop. An endless scroll! I can only give each one a second or two, there are more on the way, no time to stop!
I’ll give in to letting it be what it is. So, we’ve changed. Photography has evolved. It’s where we are today. It IS sharing. It’s just now in real time in much greater quantities, non-stop. Life as it happens. And we’re right there with you. Okay. Fine. I accept that.
But can we please call it something else? Just to be clear? Daycaps (daily captures)? Toviews (today’s views)? Persnaps (personal snaps)? Menows (me now)?
Photography has a rich history of taking us back to revisit people and places and times shared. To be a physical object created by a photographer with the intent to make a print, then framed as art is framed, to become a part of our world, displayed in our space. It’s an actual thing. A photograph. Wall decor. A memory possessed.
My goal is to make art that can live in homes and offices, personal spaces. I care about display. I get a lot of joy from good presentation. A framed photographs is art. It becomes a part of who we are, the way it stays with us, living with us, sharing our space, shaping our world.
I find that to be the most special thing about photographs. Where they came from, what they say, who gave them to us, how we get to keep the special people in our lives close by when we’re apart.
In a simple photograph.