My four year old daughter is fascinated with the Little House on the Prairie series of books. We read a couple of chapters almost every night, only occasionally interrupted with a special request for Thomas the Tank Engine, Paddington, Winnie the Pooh or the like. We just finished reading a part of the story where, soon after the family build their house Pa has to leave to find work to pay for the building materials he bought because a swarm of grasshoppers ate his crops that he planned to sell. He walks 300 miles east in his old, battered boots to find work but returns home triumphant at the end of the season.
Technology has changed so much in the past century that such an amazing story would be a non event today. A cheap two hour flight will get you from the mid west to where Pa walked over a period of several days. It got me thinking about the changes in photography over the same period.
During the past 15 years or so we have entered what we affectionately call “the digital revolution”. But what does this really mean? If you look at the equipment we are using in this time of “revolution” we are still using what looks like the 35mm SLR that has been with us for the past 60 years or so as well as medium format and large cameras for even longer. The film back has been replaced with a digital capture device and we can now load (or scan) images directly into a computer, allowing us to dispense with the wet darkroom. This has significantly sped up the whole process of capture to final image. However, the ultimate goal of photography, to create images that convey a message, has not changed. If all we have done is speed things up does this alone constitute a “revolution”? In trying to find an answer to this question I think we need to go beyond just creating the image. I think we also need to consider the tools that are now available to photographers to find an audience and to share images with that audience. Back in the day photographers relied heavily on a network of contacts to get their work out there. Images were shared with friends and relatives in person, at camera clubs, in books, magazines, newspapers, stock agencies and galleries. You had to know who to talk to in order to get your work known. Today, although photographers still rely on their network of contacts, the tools that are available to build up that network are phenomenal. In addition to the more traditional tools, photographers today also have on-line tools such as social media, blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, etc, etc. all of which when used effectively can drive traffic to a photographers website where his or her work is displayed in a virtual gallery.
Although the paradigm remains – these tools are used to reach an audience – there has been a shift in the paradigm. The audience still has to be reached, but today it can be reached much, much quicker. A finished image can be published online and in the hands of the photographers [known and unknown] audience almost at the blink of an eye. This, for me, is truly revolutionary.
The photographer no longer has to walk 300 miles in old worn boots to achieve his or her goal. However, we still need to remember that the goal will never come to us.