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“The Future is Multimedia!”

August 7, 2009



“The Future is Multimedia.”

Wow, how many times have I heard this in the past few years, and when I say few, I’m talking around eight or ten.

If you are a photographer working today, you know it is impossible to avoid this statement, threat, hope or however else you might choose to name it.

Our industry is in constant turmoil and many of the powers that be seem concerned with finding a path to save us from ourselves.

Fifteen years ago the beginnings of the digital revolution percolated from the moist Earth below us and the warning was issued, “the future is digital imaging.” With this proclamation came the simultaneous threat of “film is dead,” which we continue to hear, all these long years later.

Eight or ten years ago, with the rise of small, high-quality video cameras, and software that allowed for animation of still imagery, another proclamation began to emerge, “the future is multimedia.”

Flat screen television, 24-hour news and entertainment, hundreds of channels, cable networks, satellites, etc, etc, churned out a level of visual bombardment, never seen before. The “shock and awe” entertainment world was upon us, and frankly, dominated much of the American way of life, not to mention the rest of the world. It can be argued it dominates even more so today.

I remember first hearing this multimedia pledge from the newspaper world as subscriptions plummeted and the ship’s captains desperately searched for the life raft. The conclusion was multimedia would save the day.

When I first heard this statement I was puzzled. I looked around at my friends and neighbors and asked, “Are they really getting up in the morning and saying, “I’d read this paper if only they had more videos online.” I didn’t think this was the case, and so began my informal survey.

The overwhelming response was not a craving for multimedia, but rather a craving for better reporting. Seeing as we are this far along into the demise of newspapers, I think that ship has sailed. And, I can see the younger generation, the real TV generation, or the TV gen on performance enhancing drugs, not wanting to bother with reading ANYTHING.

Look at the studies already completed on the attention span of this younger crew, and the struggle they find when reading anything of any length. And, this doesn’t just apply to the younger crowd. Many of us older folks are struggling with the same issues. We need information in micro-bites, and we need to ingest it while doing seven other things.

Yesterday a friend sent me a multimedia presentation from a well known photographer who really makes incredible pictures. I was excited when this presentation came, and I quickly stopped what I was doing to take a peak.

28 seconds.

28 seconds. That’s how far I got, before I began looking at the dust on on the edges of my monitor. 28 seconds before I began wondering if I had rolled my shutter speed to “B” on my Leica before putting it in my bag earlier in the day.

I was gone. Lost. Uninterested.

My brain realized the presentation, although filled with some visual treats, was produced. It wasn’t real, at least in my mind. To make these movies, these moments, the subjects and situations had to be manufactured, recreated over and over to get it just right. Gone was the idea of fragile life moments, and in was the idea of crafted perfection.

Also, there was just too much going on. I craved to see these images alone, STILL, quiet and confronting, basically, the exact opposite of how they were being shown, which to me felt like a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, the trailer holding one perspective no longer than 1/2 second before shifting to another scene, another, another, another.

I get it. I know why photographers are doing this. That enormous sucking sound you hear is the visual pipeline gasping for more information to satisfy the hunger. This is the same reason we have royalty free, microstock, and things like the Ophan Works Bill. That pipeline won’t be denied, and this new visual style is heading straight for the void.

For me, someone who grew up with almost no television, this newish presentation method doesn’t really hold my interest. And I don’ t believe it is the future of still photography. Not even close. I think it is it’s own entity, and will continue to to morph faster than anyone could imagine. I also don’t think it is sustainable as a profession for 99% of those who will dive in. Like the web. Remember when we heard how the web would save us all. Now I hear story after story of “Ya, the web is great but nobody will pay for it.”

Well get ready multimedia crowd, that same train is coming your way.

I think what we should do is take a collective deep breath and just relax. We don’t have to make grand statements about what our future is. Why? Well, what if your future is different from mine? Who cares? It’s like the “film is dead” crowd, still beating this drum. Who cares? What do your pictures look like? It makes no difference how they were created.

And why do we feel the need to force everyone through the same channel. If your doing it, and I’m doing it, and my mom is doing it, and her arm wrestling club members are doing it, then what is so interesting about that?

Again, I’ve said this many times before, for a “creative industry” we conform faster than any other group I know.

Same with this multimedia stuff. Wanna do it, great, go for it, make a world class visual buffet, but don’t condemn me for wanting to order off the menu, or for choosing another restaurant. Let’s not put this pressure on us or on multimedia. It is what it is and what it will be. I have no idea what that means, but I’m on a roll.

From time to time I see a multimedia piece that really hits home. But, it comes along about one out of every one hundred. Trente Park, Minutes to Midnight. Paul Fusco, Chernobyl. They work. Why?


Ahem, let me repeat that, I had something in my throat. THEIR PHOTOGRAPHS ARE REALLY GOOD.

“The future is multimedia?” No, the future is simply what you make it.

Now go make some really great pictures, and if adding music and making them move around the screen seems to enhance the experience, then do it, but don’t feel like you have to.

Make no apologies, don’t fret you are not “keeping up.” Still imagery is strong enough to exist on it’s own, and if I had to guess, will probably outlive all of us and our latest, greatest methods.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. John Doe permalink
    August 7, 2009 5:31 pm

    I would have read this post but it was too long. I need my MTV!

  2. Leigh permalink
    August 9, 2009 3:19 am

    Your right about the photography industry going away [far,far away mind you] from making people actual think, feel and/or see something…anything of substance. There is way too much “We want more of that”!…point to most of the imagery that is out in front of most of the Joe General Public’s eyes.

    However I do feel there is a place, a hunger, a downright desperasion for the type of pictures that take a modicum of effort to understand and appreciate. The penduleum will swing back eventually when Joe Public starts to become nauseous from all the sugar,candy coated, deep fried, unlimeted portions of drival that’s being fed to them now.

    The image powers that be do bank on Joe Blow Public being the lowest common denominator just like our country’s politicians do. They count on framing the question, debate, art, stories etc…so that they can provide what will make them the most $$$$$$$ from a population that can’t quite get up enough energy to think from themselves.

    However this should not stop anyone from doing beautiful, thought provoking work that reminds us why were human.

    Sorry for the litany!

  3. August 15, 2009 2:21 am

    Thank God… I’m not alone…

    Thanks for taking the time to share this Daniel.



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