Friday, January 06, 2006

Digital And The Influx of "The Masses"

Digital photography has brought about perhaps the largest single rejuvinating and reinvigorating influx of newcomers into photography as any one development since the introduction of color print film. Now more than ever, men,women,and children and youths are getting their FIRST camera. Or their first digital camera. The promise of film-less picture taking and the ease and convenience and the instant gratification that little image on the LCD sreen of a digital still camera brings with it--man, all those factors seem to have brought a teeming mass of newcomers into the field that used to be called amateur photography.Hell, even cellular telephones can have a camera built into them. Digital still capture devices, aka digital cameras, aka digicams--they are indeed everywhere these days.And there is a subtle to not-so-subtle bias or prejudice against this invasion of "The Masses".
What I think is fun to do is to go to a photo sharing site,like pBase or SmugMug,or any one of the other hundreds and hundreds of such sites around the world, and to peruse galleries there, by user, or by category,just to get a feel for what kind of photography is being done today,in the digital photography era. Film sales are down,down,down. And besides,the chances of actually SEEING film-captured images on the world wide web is pretty small. The majority of film-captured images never see daylight,especially on the web. The web lends itself to ditgitally captured images. Scanning film or scanning finished photographic prints,as a way to get a digitized image for the web, is the province of very,very few people these days.Except for professionally created images designed for commercial uses, the web is an unlikely place to see traditionally made ( IOW,shot-on-film) "photographs". Oh sure, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of the pictures or photographs taken in 2006 will be digitally captured images.And a good many images captured in 2006 will be by made by indivudual members of that often-villified group known as "the masses". You know, the unwashed, unkempt,uneducated rabble who gather each day outside the palace walls. Those uncultured cattle who dare bellow their dismay outside the Master's castle....these are the people who are now over-populating the land and bringing with them pestilence and filth and, well, yuckiness!
At least that's the undercurrent of the message now emanating from the so-called opinion leaders in photography today. A number of these so-called leaders display what is,to me at least, a really alarming amount of contempt and resentment for these newcomers,even though the sheer numbers and Dollar Power of these newcomers have been of tremendous benefit to those of us to for which picture-making is more than a new,passing fancy. These "masses" have helped spur the development of exciting new photographic and computer peripheral equipment.Lowly consumers and pro-sumers and the dreaded amatuer photographers have driven the development of the most exciting new digital technologies,and helped to lower prices for everybody. New cameras, new printers,new accessories like color calibration software,better hard disk and networking solutions,portable storage devices to which we can downloading computer memory cards while afield,and also new technologies like wireless transmission from camera to computer--the development, the R&D and the manufacture of all of these new developments have been payed for mostly by their widespread appeal to these "masses". The same "masses" that the rich and powerful love to thumb their noses at,whilst they enjoy shooting photos with their Canon 1Ds Mark II's and their Nikon D2x's and so on.
It is humorous to me that the new "Doctor's Camera" has become the Canon 1Ds and 1Ds Mark II series, supplanting the venerable Leica rangefinder as the camera with the most Money Appeal. Hell, the prototypical and the BEST 35mm camera and lens line, that of Leica, has finally been supplanted by a digital camera! If that does not tell you that the ditial age is firmly here, then nothing will. I myself am glad that Canon and Nikon are selling more cameras and more lenses than they did in the 35mm film heyday of the 1970s and 1980's. I myself am glad to see more people beginning to enjoy photography. Within the past two years,I have seen almost everybody I know buy themselves a digital camera.People who had never really been much into photography suddenly saw the light and went digital. Pretty incredible,really. If this sudden spike in interest would have been in something like voter registration, or personal health and exercise, we would have had people shouting from the rooftops about this wonderful new trend. Instead, I hear from some of the so-called "leaders" and opinion leaders that all these newcomers are a bad thing, and that they are lowering the standards for the proper,established community; there are a growing number of so-called opinion leaders who are bemoaning the size of the mob and the stench emanating from the unwashed,unkempt masses huddled outside the palace walls. Revolutions bring with them very,very nasty masses of people. And the rulers,especially the tyranical or despotic ones,are quite often deposed in these revolutions carried out by "the masses". Marie Antoinete's cavalier, "Let them eat cake," is a pretty chilling reminder of what hubris and deafness to revolutionary tendencies can bring. And,in that light, I've been trying to really identify, to really decipher for myself, what this influx of newcomers has meant to photography. If you want to SEE what is happening, go right now to and spend an hour surfing. If you PAY a small fee, you will have access to searching capabilities, as well as a space on pBase where you can upload your photos to,and you'll be able to use search terms to help you find images taken by people from all over the world. I myself am trying to better understand the nuances of digital photography,and the reasons why people are getting involved in it,and I am also trying to understand the motivations behind several different "types" of practitioners of digital photography. I'm realizing that there are many among "the masses" that have very little understanding of the craft of traditional photography,as well as basically NO conceptor knowledge whatsoever of those who pioneered in the field of photography, and damned little appreciation of the field of photography from any type of historical perspective. In other words, there really are a lot of people for whom digital photography is a very unexamined,casual thing.And that's fine....there is a place for snapshooters,and photos of the grandkids,pets,and travel destinations.A few years ago, the "elite" were some of the first to experiment with digital capture,and to brag about their use of digital capture methods. Soon I think, these same "elite" will be the first ones to proclaim and to brag that they have gone back to film,in an effort to differentiate themselves from the digital-shooting masses.Which will be a good thing, since it'll get their pictures off the web,and back into those dusty galleries and those printed books!

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