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After All These Years

January 7, 2010

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Marc permalink
    January 7, 2010 9:06 pm

    Daniel, you nailed another one. I completely understand. On the rare occassions I go to a gallery, I find myself gravitating toward still images. Video installations, 99% of the time, I can’t make much sense of it, nor do I have much patience to do so. With a still image, it’s instant, and as you said, you either engage or you don’t.

    I’m a graphic designer. A print designer, at that. When people talk about design going digital and interactive, to me it’s sad. What happened to good old print? Physically flipping through toothy pages and smelling the press? Feeling in the end product the soul and work of those that contributed?

    To print and film!

    • ana june permalink
      January 7, 2010 9:29 pm

      Print designer and photographer here too, and I concur.
      We got rid of cable a year and a half ago, despite the children’s protests. I don’t miss it. If I really want to watch one of those shows (which I usually don’t) I know I can find them on DVD anyway. Then I don’t have to be beholden to the schedule dictated by the glowing box!
      But seriously…if print design goes out of fashion entirely, then forget it. I am old fashioned in that regard–I’ll still be making publications, even if I have to resort to stapling hefty chunks of printer paper together as I did when I was little.
      As for film…I am happy to be fully digital but yes, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about film and the darkroom, that you won’t get with Photoshop. The feel of that freshly processed print in your hands is unequaled.
      Still, I am a PS addict. And I shoot so much I’d be unable to feed the kids if I were still shooting film!

      • January 8, 2010 12:42 am

        No sorry. You have to shoot film like me.
        I agree. I like glue. I like paper. I like ink. I like tangible stuff. From time to time I find a use for digital, but for whatever reason, for me, I like the film world.
        I used to shoot a lot more digital but found another market by shooting film.
        Who said you have to feed your kids? Shouldnt’ they have jobs by now? Come on!!!

        You should retire!!

        See you down the road, hopefully in SF, and keep snapping!

  2. David Wissinger permalink
    January 8, 2010 7:34 pm

    I often wonder why people – including me – like B+W photography. It’s old school, kind of antique and musty. NOT new. But all my friends have professionally done portraits of the kids, some in B+W. So the allure of the traditional still image is there, almost like an instinct. I have two B+W 5X7 prints of my daughters in my office. People comment all the time. There will be all kinds of new stuff all the time. But B+W stills will always be around.

    • January 8, 2010 10:05 pm

      Ya, it’s odd. For me, it makes me think a little more. With color, sometimes, for me, the color carries the images. Nothing wrong with that, but I’ll take content and composition over color. I shot color for YEARS, and have several images I like. Black and white, for me, is much more difficult. I think for some folks, the opposite is true.

  3. Leigh permalink
    January 9, 2010 4:13 am

    Well my guess is that you probably won’t be jumping on Polaroid’s relaunch with Lady Ga Ga at the helm as their new creative director band wagon.
    When I heard this first I thought I was hallucinating then I thought maybe my sight was going or maybe I’m trapped in a really really bad episode of the “Twilight Zone”.
    It’s hard NOT to react to stuff like this but it’s time to turn off the external noise and keep doing the work that means something….even if it means going against the tide.
    I’m just going to concentrate on the work as I stick both fingers in my ears and say, ” La, la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la,la, la.

    • January 9, 2010 5:20 pm

      That is just the power of Hollywood in the camera world. Think Ashton Kutcher. If these folks said, “jump off the roof,” a lot of people would be in the ER tomorrow. You’re right. Gotta turn it off.

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