We Are at a Societal Crossroads, a Most Important Time to Be a Photographer

It’s never been a more important time to be a photographer than today. You might question, “Why?” When it seems like everyone is a photographer with a phone in their pocket and there are more photographs being made today than at any time in the history of photography.

The thing is virtually none of those photos have a hope of lasting 50 years. Combine that fact with the speed of technology and we are really at a crossroads as photographers with old things becoming obsolete and new things taking over at a very quick rate. For example, think of how far we’ve come with camera phones, but before that, just about 10 years ago, we were all using small digicams, point-and-shoot cameras that stored photos on flash media. We did that for ten years from when digital photography first burst onto the scene.

The most important question: Where are all those photos?

They’re lost. Gone. Just like all of today’s photos will be in ten more years. Because when you have such a large number of something, the management of that quantity becomes a challenge. The photos get lost. It’s unmanageable due to its sheer size.

Add in dead computers, hard drives, old phones, lost phones, families relocating and moving, and young people just not caring.

Things change so quickly, who’s thinking to photograph what is ‘today’? In front of them. The most common things that look like nothing.

The traffic light. (In the future if we have driverless cars, there may no longer be traffic lights.) Have we made a photograph that really stands out as a great document of the end of traffic lights?

The parking meter. (For the same reason, the car may just drive itself somewhere and return later, no need to park in town.)

Think about all who are scared of driverless cars if they work: Municipalities that count on traffic infractions for revenue. Cities that collect parking fees and fines. Body shops that repair cars after accidents. Car insurance salespeople. Injury lawyers. Even traffic light and sign manufacturers.

What else is going to disappear, perhaps?

The cell phone store. The department store. The grocery store.

Will we even have a need to use a handheld device to communicate with people? Will all things be delivered to us, so there will be no need for brick-and-mortar shops?

What about our downtowns? Our pubs with their plethora of televisions showing sports? Maybe in the future, TVs will be built into our homes in a 3D virtual reality experience so it feels like we’re at the game in person, all from the comfort of our home theater rooms.

We are changing at the speed of technology. I surmise there isn’t a better time to be a photographer documenting our world, as the best photographs will stand the test of time and be looked back on to see who we were, how we lived.

Something we can’t see while we’re in it. While peering out the window.

You can either live in the mountains or live off the mountains where then you can see the mountains. But you can’t see them if you live in them. You’re too close. It’s impossible.

Same with the worthwhile scenes of today. We need visionaries who can project being able to come back to 2022 from 2072 and make photographs of the things that people of that future time would be wishing they were able to photograph. Similar to how people today would love to photograph in 1972. Ah, what great photographic possibilities.

Not to the people living in 1972. At that point, it was just the ordinary. Nothing to see here. Move along. They were probably wishing they could photograph things from 1922. (To see a great example of artists wishing they were from another time, see the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris.)

So if you’re looking for photographic subjects, go out and photograph what’s in front of you in the most common places, anything you can imagine disappearing in the future. The Apple store. The car dealership. Cash money and coins. The cashier at the grocery. (Someday very soon, all cashiers will be replaced by self-checkouts or no need to check out at all–Amazon Fresh already has that.)

Then print them and store them in a safe place for 50 years. They will only get better with age, and your children’s children will have a treasure trove of some of the most important photographs made today and if they’re well made, you may have a legacy as one of the most important photographers of the early 2000s.

4 thoughts on “We Are at a Societal Crossroads, a Most Important Time to Be a Photographer

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  1. > Where are all those photos?
    >
    > They’re lost. Gone.

    No. They’re not. They are in photo albums in print or online. They’re in blogposts.
    I shoot film and digital. I’m amazed that some film photographers feel the need to use this straw man argument about the longevity of film versus digital.

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    1. I disagree it’s a straw man argument. I know bloggers who’ve long ago shut down their blog. The photos in them are gone. I have friends, none of whom are printing anything. None. Zero. They talk about it and never do. Unless I print something and give it to them, they have no prints. So, they don’t have prints in albums. I think it’s all possible to make prints and albums, but the truth is it’s not happening. They’re just being lost and it’s for two reasons–everyone already saw them, there’s no fun in making prints, and there are just too many, it’s overwhelming and people are plenty busy with other stuff. Who has the time? That’s what they say, seriously.

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    2. I was at a Thanksgiving dinner last night. People took phone photos that no one will ever see or will look at for a second. I have a photo of a friend’s daughter on film, holding her new niece, that I ordered prints for today and will give to her in a small frame. That photograph has a chance of lasting. I know there’s another one of that same friend’s daughter and her best friend, when the best friend came in for a surprise visit last year, I photographed them together and before the friend left for home, I printed two prints, one for each of them. They exist. I know because I dog-sat for that friend’s daughter last summer and saw the photo in the front room as I walked into the house. I’m a photographer–I make photographs. What these other people are making are glances. I’m not making those. And it’s all most people are making despite what you may be doing. You’re an exception, I’m sure.

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