Thoughts On Today’s Photography

by William Lulow

Just read a treatise which was a reaction to an experience at the recent Photo Plus Expo held annually at New York’s Javits Center. Apparently, the author was walking around the exhibit and noticed all the recent equipment which was smaller, easier to use, more automated and less devoted to producing ultra-high quality photographs. He called it “The Graying of Photography…”

He wasn’t exactly saying that we all need to change equipment and go with the flow, but he was pointing out that “traditional photography” in the sense that we have come to know it, is changing because the younger practitioners don’t have the same requirements of permanence and quality that the older folks had.

Applications like SNAPCHAT, with their disappearing posts and other technology generally don’t require photographs of superior quality. I’ve written about this kind of thing before. If the photograph is “good enough” for whatever the purpose, there is no need to make it better. It just needs to be able to be viewed by whatever means (usually on a screen of some sort – be it a smartphone, a computer or whatever). So, the technical aspects of making a photograph that we all learned in the film era, are now not as important as the substance of the images themselves. This is not to say that substance wasn’t important back then, but now, the quickness of our ability to see images has taken more of a lead role in the equation. The need to present a quality “print” is no more.  The Boston Marathon bombers were discovered with rather grainy and out of focus surveillance video. That’s all that counted. It didn’t matter that the quality was not good.  We are probably the most watched society in human history and we are watched and photographed by miniature surveillance cameras which couldn’t make a decent landscape photograph that would stand an enlargement to 8×10 inches!

This may be all well and good, but we know that traditional values in photography have not died out. We still marvel when we see wonderful exhibition quality prints displayed in an art gallery or museum and can command our attention just the way they always have. There are still galleries and museums that show photographic prints and take the trouble to have them mounted and framed the way they deserve to be. Content is still as important as ever and shouldn’t play second fiddle to technique. They are equally important in the image-making process. What good are those grainy, fuzzy surveillance images if they won’t stand up to making them big enough to see? They identified the perpetrators and so that was good enough for the purposes of law enforcement. Will they hang on a museum wall? Probably not! In the past, one had to possess a good bit of skill to make a photograph. Not so today!

So, as in all things, everything has its purpose. So it is in the field of photography. If you want to make images of museum quality, you need more than just a surveillance camera. If you need to document that you visited a place, an iPhone camera will probably do the trick. If you need an image for an advertisement, it should be of the highest quality possible so that viewers can easily see all the details of the product. Each need dictates its own quality. The problem with today’s crop of photographers is that too many are settling for inferior quality images in general.