The Great Photographic Democracy

December 31, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Don't worry, this isn't a typical "Back in the day...." diatribe. But, I do need to set the stage just a bit. When I became a photographer, doing it well even on just a technical level was difficult, requiring some degree of training and commitment. Succeeding as a studio product/still-life photographer demanded knowledge of large format cameras and sheet film and all that entails. Even shooting 35mm film required some degree of expertise and a potentially significant financial investment. These restrictions had the effect of limiting how many people became "serious" about photography.

Enter the digital age. Digital cameras and camera phones have become the great equalizer. Photos can be made without expertise or investment beyond the cost of the device. The images can be shared instantly and without expense. We now live in a true photographic democracy.

I won't say I miss my view cameras and would only drag one out as an artistic choice. As I sit in my sun-drenched room, watching my big-ass Epson printer crank out spectacular archival prints*, I certainly don't miss long smelly hours/days spent in a darkroom.

However, as the barrier of technical expertise evaporates, it becomes more and more difficult to stand out as a photographer worth being noticed simply due to the sheer number of images being generated and disseminated daily. Great photographers have always gotten recognition as a result of a powerful personal vision and nothing has changed in that respect. Commercial photographers are now being called upon to shoot national ad campaigns using Instagram. Anyone can get an Instagram account, it's the artist's vision that makes the difference. I'm thrilled to be part of this photographic revolution. Photographers can no longer hide behind the technical barriers that kept many people out of the picture-making arena.

Historically, photography was commonly seen as some combination of science and magic. Today the tools are so good that they become transparent. Shooting my seascapes with a current state-of-the-art camera is all about seeing, purely seeing. The science has melted completely away, but the magic still remains.

*A quick note about big-ass prints:  The traditionalist part of me loves a great print. I don't know what percentage of all photos taken today ever get printed, but it's probably a number too small to even bother mentioning. When I shoot for my art, a portion of my brain is always thinking "BIG PRINT." If you haven't been to a photography exhibit lately and seen images on paper (or some other substrate) you're missing out. Pixels are great but prints still rule the day.

Happy New Year! Stay curious my friend.


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