The latest ad from Apple about the usefulness of their iPads got me thinking, for whatever reason, about cameras, photography, and articles that pop up from time to time to declare ambitious statements about photography.
Another has popped up recently as I’m sure many of you reading have already come across, where another journalist decided to declare the end of the camera as we know it. However, until I see a mobile camera share the same level of technical precision with which one is able to capture the same emotional depth and clarity of their more sophisticated brothers, I am not buying into these baitish articles about how traditional photography is dead. Traditional meaning, in this case, using a device designed only to make photographs, not share them.
Is photography evolving? Sure. Is it becoming more accessible to anyone? In a way, of course, software is able to gloss over most any cameras shortcomings these days to some degree. But to declare its figurehead, the stand-alone camera, dead or even starting to die is a gross over-exaggeration. To me, these sentiments always come across as oversimplified, wishful attempts at making a statement about the field in general. It’s like stories I read last year about still photography becoming irrelevant in the face of such capable video camera stills, really?
In the early days of commercially available cameras there was not a lot to distinguish those created for the general public versus the professional. A camera was a camera, and advancements were made as a whole so big steps such as the introduction of 35mm film and smaller, easier to carry cameras were obviously created to spread the technology to a wider audience by making the process more convenient.
As time went on a dividing line started to appear between cameras made for consumers versus those designed for professionals. Cameras such as the first Olympus Pen series cameras in the 60s or later the Minox 35 EL in the mid 70’s paved the way for the modern consumer-friendly point-and-shoot, which slowly but surely became more and more capable until the boom of digital swept us all off our feet.
The race for the smallest or most capable and/or convenient camera is nothing new, it’s history repeating itself and all the hyperbole about how no one will need or want any cameras other than their mobile phones? It’s nonsense.
In many ways, the landscape today is no different than it was in 1975, only the technology has changed. There will always be the simple, snapshot cameras that anyone can pick up and use and there will always be surprisingly great photos that come out of those simplified little cameras. Nothing has changed here, it’s just that the act of sharing the photos has changed and of course that is no small matter.
It’s not the personal satisfaction of making photographs and sharing them with others that is changing, it’s the expectation of the end viewer that is constantly shifting as the act of sharing grows exponentially. The easier it becomes, the more people we find interacting with the medium, and with mass adoption we see a lower point of entry in general and thus connoisseurs of the craft are born of a different mindset and existing hobbyists attempt to fold into a new way of approaching their favorite hobby or profession in fear of being left behind.
Photography will continue to be a popular and increasingly simple way to communicate and tiny digital cameras attached to our smartphones will surely continue to grow as the dominant source of output, but I have this funny feeling that I’m not the only one out there who isn’t ready to toss their cameras into a shoebox in the back of their closet.
There is nothing uncomfortable or strange about getting back from a vacation and realizing your iPhone photos are looking good enough for your needs. You’re still taking the same photos, just with a smaller camera and in the process realizing your style and photographic voice doesn’t require any gear beyond a point-and-shoot. There is nothing wrong with that, obviously. But it is no reason to get on a soap box and claim the camera is dying. The truth is far from this claim. It is simply evolving, as it always has, and the ebb and flow of those who want creative control in camera vs those who get enough creative inspiration from adding software filters will continue to fluctuate in time.
Personally speaking, using a camera is not simply a means to reach an end for me. Just because it would be easier for me to shoot using my iPhone’s camera doesn’t mean that I should. Photography is a force larger than one style and one lens can be held responsible for and all the software tricks in the world could not mimic the emotional fulfillment and gratitude I have for photography in a traditional sense. The future may lie with a digital dominance and that is perfectly fine, but the tools used to capture light in a creative way by passionate photographers can not all boil down into one automated click of the button.
That said, this is by no means a dismissal of mobile photography or the direction it is continuing to take photography in general. I myself love shooting around with my iPhone as much as the next guy and support the technology that it propagates. The future of photography is great, I’m positive of that and no matter what you choose to believe I can’t in good conscience stand by and let a fellow wandering photographer looking to plant flags in modern trends try to sell you snake oil. Not when it’s a subject I am so passionate about. Even with a passionate mind one can still manage to lose sight of the sun.