|End of the line?|
Last week I shared my concern that with everyone madly and maniacally taking photos nobody was actually spending any time looking at them, and was proposing that since 'art' in whatever form requires someone to have an opinion of it, good or bad, photography as an art form may be dying. When was the last time you spent any significant time looking at the work of other people? It might be that you regularly attend exhibitions and galleries, spend your hours online scouring social media's best bits and studying the work of all the acknowledged masters. I reckon that you'd be unusual though. Most people who take photographs don't really consider what they are doing as 'art' at all and their interest in photography is purely as a method of recording events within their lives.
Maybe, despite its key place in social media, photography is moving away from being something you share towards something you do for and by yourself? It's really not possible for anybody in today's world to take in everything that's on offer to them through the various visual pipes available to them. When I was a youth growing up in the UK, TV had exactly 3 channels, then four, and then satelite TV arrived and we were suddenly swamped with options, few of which held much interest (to me) or value. Recorded TV aside, I still find it perfectly possible to turn on the box and find nothing to watch - quantity and quality are after all very different things. Photography is sort of feeling the same right to me right now. I'm not saying that there aren't some great photogs out there doing some fantastic work, just that it's becoming increasingly difficult to sort wheat from chaff.
Whilst photography as an activity is changing fast, so is the technology that creates it and what it means to 'be a photographer' as an activity (i.e. rather than someone who 'takes photos' - the implication is that the former implies some skill and study). For instance, if those photogs working in the commercial world are to be believed, clients are bored of old-fashioned still photography and really want pictures that move now, or at least a mix of the static and dynamic. The supply of new, relatively inexpensive DSLR-type movie technology is driving demand for cool new ways of displaying imagery.
Up until now, the kind of photography that we're most often seen on our streets has been essentially big static pictures of beautiful people advertising the latest must-have in toothpaste or something, (or in my favourite ever in Turkey, a man advertising really big sausages), but as cheap flat (and soon flexible) screens seem to be here already, that might soon come to an end. The streets and underground systems of London and Paris (and I assume everywhere else) have lots and lots of little TV screens showing animated shiny-toothed types telling us what a great fresh feeling they have. I can only imagine that this will get worse and the focus on this kind of advertising in itself is quite weird because I suspect that many people of my generation have trained themselves to very effectively ignore moving adverts during TV commercial breaks. I'm sure a focus group would say different but personally, I'm much more likely to take conscious notice of something on a big static billboard when I'm sat in traffic in my car - probably because I'm actively looking for something to distract me from the boredom.
A key difference between the moving image and the still one is that with a moving image you don't get much chance to appreciate the image itself. Think for instance about those films where the cinematography is really excellent. Most of the time the camera lens is resting gently on the landscape, it's not bouncing all over the place like a rabbid rabbit on cocaine. Your eyes need time to take in an environment, with moving images I find that a bit of a challenge.
If you're just passing by a moving image you may not be able to take in the whole message at once. The next time you pass the message might be at the same point or a different one entirely, one which may not link up in your brain. With a still image you can take in the message at a glance, or build up an understanding with several viewings over time because it's always available, so unless the dynamic screens are going to start broadcasting blipverts (illegal in the UK, no idea about elsewhere) I'm not sure they're going to necessarily be as effective an advertising tool. Just my thoughts.
Warhol may have had a point to make about the relationship between advertising and art. He might also have had something to say about contemporary art's ephemeral nature. If you consider photography as part of the contemporary art scene it's probably now the most disposable of media. As an art-form composed almost exclusively (nowadays) of electrons it isn't even something you can hold in your hands, it's becoming a virtual art, one that anybody can do with their funky new gadgetry, but that few people have to take very seriously. Is that art? Maybe.
Update: Since I wrote this post this camera apparently the world's first intelligent, wearable camera has been launched. Russian blokes accidentally filming meteorites aside, would anyone be able to tell me what the hell it's for? Who the hell is going to look at it, unless of course you were going to use it to supplement those little anecdotes and stories about what happened to you that day "hey look man, I so totally went to get an ice-cream and everything." Yawn.