Is Photography Over? And if not, Where is it Going?

by evanbaden

Is photography over? It’s the question that is raised by this weeks reading. Personally, no, photography is not over. I think it is just beginning actually.

We have, for the past century or so, seen the rise of the camera in the consumers hands. Photography has grown from being a specialized science to a ubiquitous part of our everyday cultural operation. It will only continue to grow and become ever more prevalent.

The more poignant question to ask is where is photography going?

Right away, I agreed with much of what Vince Aletti said in his response to the question. Especially the quote “what’s over is the narrow view of photography — the idea that the camera is a recording device, not a creative tool, and that its product is strictly representational”. In my mind this is a good way to look at where photography is going. The idea that the photograph is some sort of “document” has been dead a long while I think. I don’t really view photography (at least anything that shows up in a gallery) to be a document. My view is “if it is in a gallery, than there are intentions other than just making a document. I do still believe and appreciate the idea of the document (no matter how skewed it may be) when it comes to historic or daily events. Then, I still see the photograph very much as a document.

But for myself, and what I think holds true for much of the art world is that the camera is a device for creation, not recording. My images, or at least the way I view my images, is far from what I think of as traditional documentary. My images are very constructed, so much so that the viewer of the work should be on to that fact fairly quickly. I would highly question the intelligence of anyone that thought I had “captured” my images in the moment.

For me, my camera serves as a tool to make a piece of art, not to index the world. But I think that notion has been around for quite a while (as Aletti also points out). Artists like Gursky, Wall, Charlie White (one of my current favorites) and a number of others have been working in this vein for years now. I am coming somewhat late to the game in that respect.

I also really enjoyed Jennifer Blessing’s notions of the ever dying photography. Photography seems to be one of the few arts that has morphed so much over time. When was the last time there was a monumental breakthrough in paint brush technology that profoundly changed the way painters painted? Maybe the introduction of acrylic paint? Does that count? I don’t think I’d equate acrylic paint with the emergence and introduction of digital into the photographic toolbox.

The idea of an ever renewing media is quite interesting. And it harkens back to some of Aletti’s comments about the rebirth of a number of older processes in recent years. I remember when Ilford started making a number of the old crazy film formats (only b&w unfortunately) again. Some of the film formats (like 8×20, 12×20, 20×24) had either not been available at all or were extremely hard to find. But there has been a resurgence in interest for some of these older ways of making images.

PLdC’s answer kind of skates around the question, but he brings up an interesting point, is art relevant? For most of the world he says (and I think I agree with him, at least when we think of the high-art of contemporary galleries and museums) it is not. Photography, however, is extremely relevent to any part of the world that it has touched. As odd as it seems, taking photographs of ourselves and those close to us seems to be human nature. While it is not “art photography”, I would argue that photography has been extremely relevant to the general population of the entire world (again, for the most part). Even when we think about the way we as people, not just western civilization, receive our news. There is almost always an image attached which we usually remember over the story that was actually written.

Getting back to thinking about where photography is going–no idea. There is definitely a broadening happening among the general public. I own at least 4 devices I can think of that have cameras in them but whose main purpose is not taking photographs. And all over the world, because of the logistics, emerging nations are opting for going straight to cellular phone over building an infrastructure of landline communications. All of those phones have cameras in them. The amount of people that own cameras (worldwide) has never been higher than it is today. Where art photography is going? Not sure about that either. I think that for a number of years, mainly that last two decades the art world has been moving away from documentary work (at least in the style of the “great photographers”) and has moved the either the more narrative or ephemeral.

I am in the camp with Jennifer Blessing, that photography is not dying, and because of the constant human urge to capture the world and people around them, I think that some sort of photography will always be around. But photography is constantly evolving, now more rapidly than ever. What it will look like and how far the new digital technology will push the medium? I’m not sure anyone can say.

It’s almost 1am, Ill have to give this more attention in the morning. Not to mention the images.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art