Thursday, 3 January 2013

Art for the talentless: Photography as a growing trend

I wrote this is as a wind-up of a few of my "photographer" friends, back when we were involved in University student media. Needless to say, these were times before Instagram.

Regardless of the state of the economy, and regardless of how many times the word recession is thrown around, it seems that many of us are happy to go on living our lives oblivious to the economic situation we find ourselves in.

At least, that’s the impression we get when we look around and see so many students of all ages and backgrounds with brand new cameras in their hands. These days, pretty much everyone owns a camera, and those who do often like to think of themselves as photographers. In the olden days, cameras were big old clumsy things on tripods that almost required a BSc to use; they had a cloth you had to hide under, a 20 minute preparation time, and at least a few days would have to pass before you finally saw the result of your effort. That is, if you hadn’t accidentally blurred it or left half of the subject out. So yes, in those days if you had a camera then the odds were in favour of you being an actual photographer.

Even in more recent years, cameras still seemed to require a knowledge about depth of field, f-stops and shutter speeds, careful composition and the rule of thirds, more than an ability to simply point and shoot. You had to go out and buy film and then pay to have it developed , which incidentally, for those of you not young enough to remember, cost a fortune. You had 24 or 36 chances per roll, and you faced the trade-off between black and white or colour, slides or 35mm prints, and a serious pondering over ASA values. But these days a digital single-lens reflex camera, or DSLR, is a camera that is larger and in many cases heavier than the much cheaper and more widespread compact cameras with electronic viewfinders - able to take amazing shots with little more from the owner than the basic ability to press a button. And with the increase in popularity of both the DSLR camera and compact cameras, photography seems to have become a totally banal process.

In fact, some could go as far as to say that photography is - for the most part - art for the utterly talentless.  If you can’t sing, can’t paint and don’t have the patience/time/talent to learn an instrument, do some crafting or shape some clay, then you can always buy a camera. Because to many, that’s what it is: It’s art for the artistically challenged.

We could even take it a step further and call it “visual karaoke”; processes whereby one takes nature, or something someone else has put more time, effort, and skill into,  and tries to pass it off as being their own merit simply by putting uploading it to Flickr with the words “JP Photography” on it. Upcoming “photographers” beware: this is a very important step in any photographer’s career. A rudimentary knowledge of Photoshop is vital, not only for the important contrast adjustments, colour-popping, and other such effects, but most importantly for the addition of the author’s initials and the word “Photography”. Nothing else serves so well as instant validation to the photographer, as the branding of the image with the word Photography. Incidentally, Photoshop is an extraordinarily expensive programme which everyone seems to own, but no one seems to have paid for.

So thanks to sites such as Deviantart, RedBubble, and most popularly, Flickr, it is virtually impossible to be on the internet without running into thousands of shots of sunsets, graffiti, graves, and rings on books casting heart-shaped shadows, alongside macro shots (close-ups) of everything from Converse trainers and stationary, stripy socks and eyes, to daisies, kittens and ladybirds, each branded with the words “XYZ Photography”.

And all this without a single mention of the MySpace generation, the camera-hoards of boys and girls in with their camera phones, revealing bird’s-eye views, and thousands of grainy flash-in-the-mirror pouting selfportraits. They’re in their millions, they’re in our computers, and they’re taking up our web-space.

Originally published: February 27, 2009 - Blog

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