What is a photograph in 2015? Is it the framed picture in a gallery, the faded 5 x 7 that sits on your grandparents’ mantelpiece or the tsunami of pixels everyone’s surfing on the interweb?
It really depends on how you define a photograph. Or rather how you define a great photograph.
Normally a photograph is defined as something that captures a moment in time. It’s what created the photographic revolution back in 1839 and to this day it’s what a camera can do better than any other artistic medium. This is especially relevant to photojournalists who are now at the really, really pointy end of digital disruption.
I’ll never forget the doomed Concorde taking off from Charles de Gaulle Airport with flames streaming from its engines or the horrific images of people free-falling from the twin towers, frozen against the bright blue sky. These images are just as powerful as any taken in the last 100 years of photojournalism, but the difference is they weren’t taken by professional photographers. That’s what peeves so many photojournalists. They spend their lives chasing that one picture that can make them famous, only for some tin-arse amateur to snap a pic on their phone and make the front page of Time magazine.
I can hear the likes of Robert Capa turning in their graves – and I can understand why. When you look back at the amazing images Capa and his brethren were able to capture with clunky, heavy, fiddly, manual film cameras then there’s just no comparison in terms of skill, anticipation and heroism. Capa wins any day of the week.
The modern photographer has to battle with another evil that is even more of a threat – the stock library! How can a professional photographer compete with pics that sell for $1 – $100? It’s a tough ask, but it can be done. Many skilled photographers who used to curse the digital age have now found a way to build their business by specialising in fashion, cars, architecture and food brands that demand bespoke imagery for each fresh campaign or season.
It’s very easy to blame the smartphone for the death of photography. Why not? Apparently it’s already killing our conversations, our memory and our relationships. Bad, evil smartphone!
Of course the truth is all types of photography have their place. And a photo will only happen if you feel the need to take one. The ‘Selfie’ is proof of that!
The huge advantage that the smartphone has is it’s everywhere, it’s random, it’s real and it’s instantly sharable. In an interesting twist for the professional photographer, big brands like Taco Bell are now beginning to mimic the smartphone/ Instagram style. The images are still carefully styled and composed by professionals and the food always looks great but the images look authentic, playful and off-the-cuff. It’s described as ‘Perfectly imperfect’ and it reflects the aesthetic that most millennials have grown up with. It says ‘we get you’.
Apple’s latest ad campaign, ‘Shot on an iphone 6’ is crowd sourced using iPhone photography from around the world. It’s taking photos found online, typically seen in a browser window, and plastering them up in massive sizes out in the real world.
The message is simple: it’s hard to believe that photos this good can come from the device in your pocket. This is a big deal, the billboard has always been a benchmark for image resolution because of the sheer size.
I love taking a quick snap on my phone. And I love crafting and creating with my Nikon. So for me, photography will never die. But what do you think?
How do you picture the future of photography?
Mike Rolfe is Lead Creative/Head of Art at BCM