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End of Year Thoughts

At the end of 2010 a few trends have become much clearer:

1. Books that use photographs are in a moment of renaissance, the awaited pushback against the digital-ephemeral and a new embrace of paper (reminiscent of painting’s expansion as photography took center stage). Made with digital tools, these books, usually from small publishers, take risks that transcend the tired monographs with photographs centered and celebrated on white pages.

2. The digital - iPad, Web, cellphone, etc. - are still being utilized as exceedingly rudimentary display devices, showing a haphazard mix of image/text/sound that is often less than the sum of its parts. There is little sense of authenticity, of risk-taking, of graphics, of layout, of typography, of playing with scale and texture. Instead, the slide-show with sound has become the overused default - and it is hardly an advance over what was done decades before.

The word “magazine” comes from the Arabic/Hebrew word “mahsan,” meaning warehouse, and it is as if we have returned to a pre-magazine era in which we are once again presenting a warehouse of media with little filtering or thought given to effective presentation.

3. Photography of news continues to evolve into a photography better done by amateurs than professionals, given that there are many more amateurs with cameras walking around at all times. The stylized imagery by professionals repeating the stereotypical news cliches is not helpful as a way of promoting understanding. The province of the professional in a journalistic context is very much the long-term essay, and many are working both in the old-fashioned and very necessary role of witness and others are trying to re-invent it to add complexity, nuance, and engage the reader in different ways. What is needed more than ever are thoughtful editors/curators who can help make sense of the visual overload.

4. We are entering a post-photographic age in the transformative sense - one in which photography has to significantly evolve in order to be useful. We are beginning to witness this transformation in a broader way, as many worldwide both interrogate and discard photography’s set of older strategies while utilizing other media synergies to amplify the photograph’s communicative potentials.

No photograph is automatically credible anymore beyond a local context, and this is both a challenge and wake-up call. Many photographers (broadly defined) now seem to be stimulated by the new potentials of the photograph and the discussion is finally beginning to evolve beyond the repetitive and plaintive “end of photojournalism” to a sense of multiple new beginnings in an increasingly open-source world. The next step will have to be a more vigorous search for meaning, as well as for collaboration.

Have a happy and peaceful new year!

4 Comments

  1. AC wrote:

    Winogrand says that the photograph is a new fact. He says that a photograph should be experienced simply as what it is, with no other contexts influencing it. These tenets still ring true for me, and in the trajectory of my own work. THere’s a limit to how mollified, with or without technology, this concept can become, without the work suffering.

    Friday, December 31, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  2. Gabi wrote:

    - In an era where ecological sustainability becomes more and more important, digital photography offers a solution for the masses to display more sustainable behavior, while at the same time making the medium accessible: Less chemicals, less waste, less clutter.

    - While not being a particular fan of digital slideshows, it’s still not the medium or gear, and not even the mode of presentation, that makes a good photograph, but the photographer.

    - Now that the masses are equipped with cameras everywhere and therefore have an unbeknownst access to photography as a medium, it becomes increasingly difficult to counterfeit an image - there’s always someone else there who captures the scene, and their documents can become testimonies of reality.

    Sunday, January 2, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  3. Bob wrote:

    We are beginning to witness this transformation in a broader way, as many worldwide both interrogate and discard photography’s set of older strategies while utilizing other media synergies to amplify the photograph’s communicative potentials.

    Such as? (Examples please).

    Note regarding poster Gabi’s comments:
    How much coal do we have to burn to fuel the age of digital imaging? (mercury contamination is a byproduct of the digital age).

    Friday, June 10, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Andre Friedmann wrote:

    The explosive growth of small-edition photography book publishing since the mid-1990s? That has both upsides and downsides.
    In a very tough economy in 2010 a bookseller specializing in photography closed his doors in Rockport, Maine after the internet squeezed his margins. Unable to eke out a livelihood after more than twenty years adjacent the Maine Photography Workshops, he pointed out that photographers published more books of their work in the last fifteen years than all the photography books combined in the previous 150 years. Consonant with this boom in publishing, the photographers had – in his experience and observation – few or no customers to buy their books or their prints. Nearly all the books were headed for the remainder pile and for pulping. Sales were a bust. Each photographer could only hope for the thing that happened to John Szarkowski: Dave Garroway, the host of the popular NBC morning television program “The Today Show” plugged Szarkowski’s new book “The Face of Minnesota” on air in June 1958, and the book’s July sales put it on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks that summer.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

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