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I’ve been musing for the longest time about how digital technology simultaneously democratizes photography and degrades it. I haven’t written about it since my first post here, back in October, but something I read this week give me cause to return to the subject for a moment.

Mainly, it was this article in the Guardian, that eminent London newspaper that happens to enjoy the second-highest online readership among English language newspapers, trailing only the New York Times. The headline says it all:

Why you are the future of photography

A new show suggests that webcams, Google Street View and a cat named Nancy Bean are set to change the world of photography as we know it.

The article is about a show called From Here On, unveiled at the Arles Photography Festival.  It is apparently a reflection of some new “manifesto” from a group of visual artists who are much smarter and more insightful than the rest of us. In the broadest possible sense, the premise of this exhibition is certainly true; digital technology has changed our world and the images we make of it. Somehow, sadly, I don’t consider “celebrating the banal” to be a good thing. I guess I’m just not as hip as I thought I was.

Seriously, I don’t want barriers between the creative mind and its audience. I love that photography is so universal both in terms of the means of production and access to the results. I would, on the other hand, like to see a bit more attention paid to craft. No, make that a lot more attention paid to craft. Most of what I see online these days is garbage, whether it be some newly minted MFA’s online portfolio or some 15-year-old girl’s Facebook gallery; motion blur and blank stares and lens flare, cut-off heads and hands, pictures completely out of focus. pictures with no subject, pictures with too many subjects.

Nancy Bean - Art Photographer

I will grant you that rigid adherence to a medium’s conventions will cripple an artist. I’m not suggesting that we all emulate Edward Weston for the rest of eternity. On the other hand, I’m not willing to expand the boundaries of art photography so far that an image’s existence is sufficient to elevate to the level of “art.” Take, for example, the case of Nancy Bean, a cat with digital camera mounted on her collar. Nancy is one of the “artists” included in this show. The camera is set to capture an image every minute. It’s a cute and clever idea, but the cat has no creative intent (I don’t care how smart you think cats are) and the creation of images by the actual”creator,” whoever it was that put the camera on the cat in the first place, is so far removed from the act of creation as to make it completely accidental.

Put another way: if I tie a video camera to my dog’s tail and post the clips on Youtube, I am not a video artist and neither is my dog.

This critic, Sean O’Hagan, has it right. This Brave New World of Photography is certainly not “pretty.” It’s narcissism elevated to a cultural ideal.

RXM

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  1. […] with a point of view is worth listening to. I’ve commented on this disastrous trend before (in this post)and elsewhere. It’s an oversimplification to be sure, but I think there’s some merit in […]

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