Photography is alive and kicking (you -probably- just don't get it)

Photography is alive and kicking (you -probably- just don't get it)

It's a new year and at this point in time there is usually speculation in "photographic cycles" (i.e. online communities where enthusiasts congregate) on how the industry is going to fare in months to come.

It has been a common secret that mainstream photography market has been in somewhat of a decline during the last few years. Following an unexpected peak, sales have been less than spectacular for most of the major players during the last three years or so. In fact, recent news are anything but comforting for some; e.g. Samsung is leaving the building, it seems. 2015 has been a mediocre year at best and, given the global economic climate, nothing seems to indicate a return to glory.

Nevertheless, I would argue that Photography is at its more glorious days ever.

First of all, let's admit that what enthusiasts call "Photography" has a very specific meaning. Serious amateurs and professionals like to see Photography as an especially serious discipline. For them, there is no Photography without great, or, at least, quite specialized gear. This "enthusiast bias" is the reason wrong assumptions are made.

First of all, "photography", if we have to be very specific about terms, is the act of taking an image of something; literally, "writing with light". It makes no difference if it's the greatest landscape picture ever recorder, the next Vogue cover or another boring picture of a cat. People take photographs, and a limited number of people make art with photographs they take.

In that sense, which is the only realistic sense, Photography is thriving. Everyone takes pictures, literally millions of photos are taken all over the planet every single minute. By the time you finished reading this paragraph, the collective photo gallery of humanity should be expanded by several hundred thousand new pictures.

The culprit is, of course, smartphones. And, when smartphones are added to the equation, the photography market is growing exponentially. It's just that the major players are not Canon and Nikon, but rather Apple and Samsung.

But I'm here to argue that this has always been the case. Never in the history of Photography were "proper" cameras the majority, or the norm.

As a kid I just made the era where most people used something like the Agfamatic pocket camera with that awful rotating disposable flash-thing. In any case, 95% of the people I knew back then used cheapo pocket cameras, with full automation. When I got my first SLR at age 15, I was considered something of a freak by most of my peers.

But it goes even further back: Kodak Brownie camera anyone? This was a camera so "automated" that you even had to get it back in the store to remove and develop the film. Kodak achieved the impossible, which was also inevitable: they made photography available to everybody, and made it transparent in terms of technical involvement.

What changed with the digital age, is, in my opinion, this: people moved away from dedicated systems.  

I still remember when, as a child, we saw the first devices with "multi" capabilities. Some dreadful Japanese watches which also had calculators fitted in, for example. But this trend stayed and developed. Speaking of calculators, I haven't used my Hewlett Packard  scientific calculator since my student years. Today students have tablets and laptops and, yes, smartphones, that are ridiculously more powerful than my expensive HP.

Today, every photo-capturing device is in fact a computer. Emphasis is on the software, not the hardware. That is not to say that hardware isn't evolving in leaps and bounds. Which makes the whole package very complex to design, but more and more cheap to produce. And, don't get me wrong, I do understand the yearning for simpler things, and there will always be people leaning towards such ideals. But please understand you (we) are the minority.

On the other hand, please don't reject what we tend to call "picture snapping" as trivial and nonsensical. A badly composed photo of a baby, an old relative or a puppy may be trivial to you, but for the person taking it may mean the world, when at some point it will be the only thing to remind them of that moment in time. And that is exactly what Photography is really about: capturing moments in time. Consider this: if our civilization collapses tomorrow, and alien explorers find the smartphone snapshots we refuse to acknowledge as "proper Photography", they will be probably able to recreate a quite accurate impression of Humanity. Everyone using a smartphone for picture taking, is, in fact, recording Reality on the planet for posterity.

Specialized and high-end gear shall always remain an option and there will always be a market for such things. A relevant example, in which I had a lot of involvement through the years as a musician, is that of recording equipment. When I started out, as starving recording-wannabes, we had to pay a fortune for a crappy two or four track cassette recorder. Today even the cheapest PC with the proper software can deliver excellent results for the casual user. Companies found a way through the digital era, usually by splitting their lines into high-end, high-performance gear for the pro and serious amateur and user-friendly, consumer level, economical gear for all the others.

As for the "proper" photographic companies, I guess the message is, make your gear more like what the people, and not just "photographers" would enjoy using. Make sharing more intuitive and easy, make processing less technical and more fun, in short, do what Apple and Microsoft did for personal computers.

 

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