the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS

By MICHAEL PERKINS

PHOTOGRAPHY IS THE LATEST THING.

PHOTOGRAPHY IS OBSOLETE.

PHOTOGRAPHY IS DEAD.

PHOTOGRAPHY IS JUST BEING BORN.

All these statements are true.

Art cannot hide from the world, nor can it sequester itself away from change. There cannot be one “final” or “permanent” way to create a painting, one lasting method for bringing forth a face from a block of marble, one eternal way to capture and shape light. It’s more than obvious that, like most arts, photography has been in a constant state of metamorphosis since  its inception, something which should comfort those for whom things seem to be, at present, “moving too fast”. Comfort, however, is not in the offing for many of us.

The sense that nothing is “permanent” anymore in the making of pictures is especially keen in recent years, since the shift from film-based imaging to digital has been such a convulsive and comprehensive break with the past. But, even though we’ve been using film for over a hundred years, the kind of film we use has always been in transition. We feel a little less solid right now because the technical means for photography are changing on a much more fundamental level. And we’re just getting started.

Shooting and processing this image in the film era would have been the work of hours, maybe days. With an iPhone app, I have it within two minutes.

Shooting and processing this image in the film era would have been the work of hours, maybe days. With an iPhone app, I have it within two minutes.

The explosion of the post-processing photo app, itself a product of the ongoing evolution of the telephone, is changing the terms of engagement for everyone who takes pictures. Everyone. Okay, you don’t have a smartphone and don’t want one. I get it. That doesn’t change the fact that the essential means for capturing and shaping an image is shifting into overdrive. More than ever before, anyone can take a picture…..anywhere, anytime, instantly, and under damn near any circumstances. The walls of experience, privilege, and access between pro and amateur are dissolving faster than Splenda in a non-fat latte. Techniques which used to be the exclusive domain of the learned, the elite, are now available to the peasantry. There are no more secrets. The Bastille has fallen.

Apps are leading all this, making any kind of effect, tint, re-focus, re-balance and re-do feasible for anyone. The tsunami of new images flooding into the internet on any given day is the output of people whose vision can now be acted upon, without exhaustive expense, without years of slaving in a newspaper bullpen, without decades of chemical-stained fingers and dingy diligence in darkrooms. If you don’t have a good eye for what makes a good picture, then that one factor can keep you from greatness. But access to tools is no longer, and can never again be, a disqualifier.

Apps are already raising the question of whether bulkier cameras with costly lenses are even needed, and the next step is for apps to answer that question with shortcuts that will, at the very least, render whole classes of cameras superfluous, and, eventually, remove all but the most basic functions of traditional lenses themselves. Custom-made “glass” is one of the remaining barriers to complete photographic democracy: it costs too much and requires too steep a learning curve for today’s ADD universe. It will have to go.

And here’s where you decide whether, in your own case, that’s a positive or negative thing. The bad news is, everything is changing. The good news is, everything is changing.

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

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