Saturday, May 8, 2010


Photography is approximately a 140 year old technology, but among the younger set using the latest cell phone models photography is often an integral part of this newest communication mode, take a picture with the phone and send it to someone else. When I first began doing photography almost 60 years ago it was a lot more of a challenge to participate than pushing a button or two, there weren’t even any reliable light meters then to use to calculate the film exposure, plus the many other things that all had to be done individually like focusing the lens on the subject, setting the aperture relative to the shutter speed, all relative to the ASA speed and type of film you were using. In other words photography in the 1950’s was a demanding technology to perform and of necessity had to be a concentrated single-minded experience.

In that era, although already modern in many respects, what the rest of the world looked like was not familiar to most people, so magazine like Life and Look, large pictures books brought the visual worlds from afar into people’s lives. The photographers of the print media like Bresson, Capra, W. Eugene Smith, Avedon, Penn were well-known heros inspiring young photographers, I was one of them you can be sure. But technology gradually changed culture, and as TV became common photography in another form, it made a living, moving world out there available to everyone in there living rooms. Today miniaturized digital technology has made media portable and accessible wherever you go and photographic pictures has become a part of everyday life. A small avatar of my facial countenance accompanies all the e-mails I send out, as it joins my comments in Facebook. The world and its use of photography has changed during my lifetime, it has become an inclusive part of everyday life instead of the rare and difficult to access medium I learned to use in the early 50’s. Is it now less important or significant. Interestingly not really, other than it is taken for granted now. Young people do not dream of being a famous photographer, because there aren’t any today like Ansel Adams was in his lifetime.

For the photography enthusiast today it is technically easier to produce high quality images, but I think a part of its attraction is still a usually solitary, single-minded experience. Personally, I believe this will not change. Photography that is part of the multitasking world of young people today, will produce a different kind of image with a much less significant perceptual impact, because photos have become so frequent and easily incorporated in common conversation the iconic pictures that helped disillusion people about war that came from Vietnam, aren’t likely to have such singular impact today and in the future.

That brings up a question some are studying seriously at MIT and Stanford University, do we derive the equal value from a multi-tasked experience as from a single-minded one? The scientists so far are finding that the quality of thought that is part of multi-tasking experience is possibly much poorer in quality than traditionalists derived from single-minded concentrations of thought. College student today do not write contiguous essays, but a series of unconnected paragraphs, according to many of their professors. So what are your thoughts? Photography of some sort will survive, but will it have the same qualities we have valued? Will any of the young people multi-tasking their way through life experience photography as you and I have enjoyed and valued, or are those days numbered?

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