I was just reminded by a list of currently established luminaries in the photography world, that what I knew and the names and images that inspired me during my early, formative years as a photographer are no longer current, replaced by names and images that are unfamiliar and don’t have an iconic role in the photography niche of contemporary culture. What has changed is not the quality of photographic work being done, but that there is now a greater volume of public information in a digitized cultural venue that is huge and rapidly evolving. Today’s photographic talent is simply lost in a deluge of image media of every kind and description. Magazines, newspapers and books still exist but even TV has been displaced partly by the internet and YouTube. How different it is when a movie star, Selma Hayek on a mission to Africa assisting in a campaign to reduce the high death rate of infants, is covered by ABC News in scene where she breast feeding a baby of a local woman who had gone dry. This most humane gesture caught on video has now gone “viral” on the internet. I find nothing to criticize, but in such an instantaneous global village of images, that will soon fade with the next “viral” pop news event, can any image attain a lasting iconic status, much less the person behind the camera who made the image?
If anything today in global social life is truly democratic, it is the world of shared imagery on the internet. This unique moment of imagery of what is a universal human event has gone viral, seen now by millions all over the world, and has elicited mostly praise for its humanity as a symbol of a generous caring act by one of the world’s few remaining icons, a movie celebrity. That photographers and their work get lost in the firmament, is not something to celebrate in the same way or degree apparently by todays connected global audience. Even though the iconic today is so momentary, so fleeting as the fast moving stream of digital images passes by, is the almost forgotten world of my early years that is no longer carried into this digital age a loss? Is the very democratic nature of a digital media that is global at the price of any individual photographer and their works never achieving the stature of iconic recognition, any great loss?
That today’s top rated professional and fine art photographer do not achieve iconic name recognition is no reflection of their talent, skill or image qualities, it is just the nature of the modern digital era culture beast, and the fact the old media, like Life magazine no longer exists, nor anything like it can possible dominate must be accepted as part of the scene today. But as an old timer looking at this cultural scene today and the fact there are no photography icons like Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, W.Eugene Smith, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon or Sam Haskins, I find this personally disheartening. Because, as a young photographer these icons of photography and their images provided me with inspiration and inadvertent guidance, direction in an otherwise unmapped terrain as to how one could progress as a photographer. How a young photographer today finds and identifies with role models to emulate is not so easy as it was 50 years ago and much more confusing with so many images replicated in so many media with little distinction made between what is aesthetically and technically good and what is trash. I just hope the youngest generation of photography hopefuls have more powerful and acute antennae and a much more confident sense of self than what most of us enjoyed back 50 years ago.