Quite a few weeks ago I was invited to contribute my prognostications for photography in 2009, an annual feature in Shutterbug I usually participate in. In early fall of 2008 what I was seeing of the world, I was loath to say what the next day would bring much less the next year, so I declined to participate as usual. Today with 2009 just a few days hence, I am no more inclined to participate in prognostication of what the future next year will bring. Although I would like to indulge in the hope change could produce, but every time I turn on the TV news or read the newspapers I hear the same prayers to the ideological economic gods that have been worshipped for the last 30 years and brought us to where we are today. Being a poor relation of the media myself, and although I try to serve a useful mission to the community of readers I serve, all but a few magazines today are the communities of people they once were, and now just cogs in a corporate conglomerate wheel that turns only to grind out a bottom line profit. For most whether on-line, on the tube or still on the newsstand, those who are still speaking continue to voice the ideas of the past, and to me it reflects a lost generation in time since 1980, that thankfully came to an end in this last election and economic crash of 2008. To me the question is will the old-fashioned ideal of an editorial purpose be renewed to make what is espoused by those in the media again serve the community of people who are the listeners, the readership of a magazine or will there only principle remain the number at the bottom line of a corporate ledger.
Of course reading this some of you will think I am being too idealistic and old-fashioned. But age for me does afford some perspective, and looking at the history of photography in the roles it has played in society and culture since 1890, I still believe photography’s most significant function was and is it is the folk art of our times. Enthusiast photography is the vehicle of visual expression of the common people recording and preserving what is important to the lives of those ordinary folk who are the community culture of our world. Some say change, like what we are now experiencing, is really opportunity. To many that opportunity is to restore the immediate past they enjoyed, which I find self defeating, putting us back on the same path that took us over a cliff. But the opportunity change provides can also bring progress. But to me that is not some alien new world I would not recognize, but one that conserves the positive human values over a longer history, like the editorial principles that have long served the progress of the people’s interests and are historically associated with names like Pulitzer and H.L. Mencken.
Individuals who only know me casually assume I am a rather radical liberal, but in contemporary connotation that would be misleading, because what I hope for in 2009 is also a conservation of some long established principled values of human society that got lost in the rush to riches during the recent past. For instance digital technology has propelled photography into a progressive new future, but the value of a photograph as a record of the history of human life has not changed. Surely the cell phone camera captures that show up on FaceBook and YouTube are often superficial and adolescent uses of a photograph, but that does not detract from the other extreme of iconic images like Capra’s shot of a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, or the Raising Of The Flag On Iwo Jima, or the little Vietnamese girl fleeing the Napalm bombing of her village; have been photographs that have educated people to a more modern sense that war is a problem, not a solution for humanity. Would there be the help so many have given to Aids victims and the starving children of Africa if it were not for their being photographed and one wrenching picture after another in the media has moved people to give or volunteer.
Between the ridiculous and profane to the inspired, photographs document life and the world we live in. Sometimes I am struck when looking through my archives I find pictures of places that no longer exist as I captured them on film, or people I knew who are no longer with us. I have a personal philosophy that all there is to this life for an individual is the experience of living it. And now getting too old to do many of the things I used to, photographs allow me to remember and re-experience life as it once was, to find an added dimension of living experience that without photographs would not be possible. If anything makes us immortal it is the photographs which have documented and illustrated a life as it has been lived. How cherished are the pictures of loved ones who have too often died young and left us?
The camera’s future is not in the marketplace of tomorrow but in the use we put them to make photographs that become a part of the illustrated story of human life in these times whatever they come to be.