After All These Years
I just realized something. Well, I think I already knew it, but I think I just realized it again, and for all I know I’ve written this post before.
I hear a lot of commotion about the “future of photography,” but I’m pretty darn sure NOBODY really knows what the future will be. Looking back at the last twenty years, I heard this proclamation many times, “The future of photography is…(insert outlandish tale here.) Much of what was predicted was done for marketing purposes more than anything else, but in the end, photography has survived in it’s multiple shapes, forms and formats, just as it always has. The marketing folks sells their elixir and move to figure out what elixir to sell next, and the really serious photographers look up from their desk, purvey the landscape and get back to work.
Today I’m being told, once again, what my future is. Today I’m being told my future is primarily electronic and will need continual upgrades.
But after much pondering and consideration, I think I know why.
It was not that long ago that the Vietnam War raged and television “came of age,” surpassing the still image, the written word, as the primary means of communication. Suddenly the battlefield, as well as every other human endeavor came flowing into the household. People around the world suddenly found themselves spending copious amounts of time in front of the glowing box.
Today, we spend more time in front of the glowing box than every before. We have hundreds if not thousands of channels, options, flowing every second of every day. In my mind Hollywood has become the single most influential societal force in America today, perhaps the world. I think there are more Hollywood driven news stories than any other topic. Any celebrity focused project is a near slam dunk. If I was a serious writer I would research this and give you the actual facts, but that might take real effort.
Hollywood and television dominate the headlines, the magazine world, the social media world and most dinner party conversations.
It typically goes like this.
“Hey, did you see the latest episode of (enter show here)?”
“Well do you remember when (enter character name here) crashed his car?”
“You know it was right after (enter character name here) got back from her leg amputation.”
“I’ve never seen the show.”
Mega-pause and confused look.
“Your kidding right?”
This has happened to me countless times.
But here is my little secret. I don’t have cable television. Yes, I’m that guy.
So when I hear that my future is motion, sound, multimedia, tablets, pods, moving photography, magazines that vibrate in my hand, 3D sleeping helmets, plug-in brain modifiers for series subscriptions, food in pill form, etc, I have to laugh and say, “Sorry peeps, that ain’t my future.” It isn’t even my present. And it was never my past.
I was lucky, my parents were not TV people either, and we lived far out in the sticks, where the rabbit ears picked up little more than horrifying local access people talking about and showing their scars from recent surgery, or the local news channel that would go to commercial and forget the camera was on, allowing us to enjoy the anchor picking his nose or yelling at his assistant.
I did have a BRIEF moment of wanting to be Sonny Crockett, but come on, Miami Vice was clearly the pinnacle of television accomplishment. I also remember, as a kid, watching Wild Kingdom each week, right after bath time as mom would plop us down with popcorn and orange juice. I was fascinated by the guy with the wooden pointer, pointing at exotic lands, as Jim, his muscle, got his ass handed to him by some African beast.
Look, you put me in front of a television and my mind just stops. It’s like a drug, even for me, the guy weaned of this potentially evil device at a young age. Turn on the TV and gone is my journal. My book is tossed aside, my phone turned off, and suddenly I’m watching Breakin 2: Electric Bugaloo at 4am.
I can’t help myself and I’m not alone.
This machine, in many ways, has taken over our lives and our culture, so I know why the modern technology snake oil salesmen are telling us all that THIS is our future.
Look. I like still imagery. I’m glad TV is here, and it is a unique thing, but I simply don’t, and probably never will, relate to it like I relate to the still image.
I don’t want my magazine to move around or have sound and motion. Just like my books. I don’t want that. What I love about a book is I can feel it, and it is static and QUIET, same with my magazines.
When I go to a gallery, I’m not typically looking for video installations, or the movie that accompanies the work. I’m looking at the quiet, still pieces, hanging formidably from the white walls.
If a piece is really good, and I mean really good, something that only comes along once in a while, the piece doesn’t need ANYTHING else. Most of what we see in the still photography world isn’t great, so perhaps adding sound and motion are crutches used to salvage average work. Look around, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
When a still image is great, and again I mean great, when you look at it you can smell it, hear it, as well as see it. All of these senses are triggered by the magic image, but more importantly by your MIND. Your senses are engaged because your mind is activated.
I think the multimedia push, in some ways, is a tad lazy, not just in the way most pieces are edited or run too long, but in the sense you might not really be that engaged by the imagery because you are simultaneously being bombarded by sound and motion in addition to the photograph. . Your brain is multitasking, and is trying to deal with at least three things at once. I my mind, that equates directly to one third of the attention going to the image.
A still image requires something on the part of the viewer. A still image is confrontational and solitary. You either engage or you don’t. But I think we have all had that moment when you looked across a space and first set eyes upon an image that nearly stopped your heart. THAT is what I love about still photography.
Let’s go back to Vietnam. When I think of this war, what comes to mind? In my case, still images, not television.
So where are we?
We are just here, today, in 2010, and we have much on our plates. I’m not sure how much I’ll contemplate the future anymore because to do my best work, I really need to concentrate on the now.
Will I watch TV this year, you bet your ass, starting with tonight’s BCS game. But when it ends, I’ll turn it off and go back to my life, and my pursuit of making still images.