After a long two year absence from this blog, I feel the need to write a post on some recent rumblings which - by the time you read this, may be either old news, or a never ending story. In essence it is a follow up to my last post of February 2014, in that it follows the same line of thought, but adds a new variable to the equation.
Firstly, I took two years away from photography due to family responsibilities. While I could write a whole run-on blog post about being a care-giver for an elderly parent, it falls quite far afield of my purpose here, so I'll just say that the time away from the camera has allowed me to see my work for what it is (or was) more clearly, and to redefine what it needs to become and where I want to go with it in the days ahead. Call it a "forced introspection," it leads me to the point I want to make now.
In my previous post I ruminated on how the preponderance of photographic images has led to a 'devaluation' of photography. Sort of a Law of Diminishing Returns in the imagery realm, as it were. Now, as this is being written, many are claiming that the continuing wave of ever-smarter smart phones finally spell the death of professional photography. They are pointing to the newest iteration of the Apple iPhone as being the beginning of the end.
Do I agree with this theory?
Yes. And No...
Yes, in that smart phones (ie "Mobile Photography") continue a trend started by digital photography in the late 1990's: That of democratizing photography. Now anyone and everyone can take pictures that - at least in their opinion - rival those taken by professionals. At the very least, anyone can create images that suit the needs of the time, without money leaving their pocket.
It can be argued endlessly that these images will not possess the technical prowess, or level of expertise that a professional photographer will achieve. In fact, there is ample proof out there that a professional photographer will still take better pictures with an iPhone than an amateur will take with anything. However, it is not impossible to believe that the days of taking photography classes, getting a tax ID number, and hanging out a shingle proudly proclaiming oneself a professional photographer are at an end. Generalization has led to extinction.
Does it mean that photography is dead? No. It is entirely possible that professional photography will likely now include that done with mobile devices. There are certain situations and circumstances where carrying around a large bag of lenses and backup bodies is a cumbersome logistical nightmare - as well as a danger and liability in some cases. For example: Urban explorers and street photographers trying to be inconspicuous can get themselves around, and out of, a lot of situations when all they are carrying is a phone.
What I am seeing is this: The days of getting into photography strictly "to make money" are gone. The time of "producing a product" are gone. The mercenary idea of seeing photography only as a financial cash-cow are gone. People can make pretty decent images for themselves now. Reprints? Package deals? They can upload and share photos from the parking lot of the grocery store. The sad reality is that people don't care about how "professional" I am as a photographer: They think they can do just as well with their mobile device.
Think I'm wrong? Want proof? Try to sign up for classes at Hallmark Institute of Photography. Or Brooks Institute. Two of the most prestigious schools of photography in the United States. And which are now closed, permanently, as of 2016.
So how will professional photography live? It must be part of something bigger. Something more than just the picture taking itself. Its about creating, and making people want to buy something larger. An idea. A feeling. It could be commercial, or strictly for creative expression. But is has to provide something that people want, and that they don't feel that they can create on their own. In short, those truly providing something innovative will reap rewards. Those merely looking for easy money have seen their day. Talk is cheap, and making images is now free. What is a picture worth? Time will tell...