Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is Digital Ruining Photography?

I hang out on a number of blogs/forums. Among the frequent discussions is the complaint that digital photography has ruined traditional professional photography because every soccer/hockey mom with a camera is advertising as a pro for pennies on Craig's list.

I was browsing through John Szarkowski's The Photographer's Eye and came across a quote I would like to share.

"…an English writer complained that the new situation had 'created an army of photographers who run rampant over the globe, photographing objects of all sorts, sizes and shapes, under almost every condition with out ever pausing to ask themselves, is this or that artistic? …They spy a view, it seems to please, the camera is focused, the shot taken! There is no pause, why should there be? For art may err but nature cannot miss, says the poet, and they listen to the dictum. To them, composition, light, shade, form and texture are so many catch phrases…"

Written in 1853 as dry plates were replacing the wet plate process, increasing the availability of photography to the masses of amateur photographers.

It seems every major advance in photography equipment or process is met with those who bemoan the advance and the demise of their own position in photography; daguerreotype, sheet film, roll film, color, 35mm, now digital. Each has had its denouncers. Yet, photography is still rolling along quite unfazed. I suspect it will for some time to come.


  1. I agree. Things change, professionals must adapt. Every profession has new advances in technology that make certain skills and jobs obsolete.

    I'm guessing the outrage in creative fields seems louder in general because there is not as much demand for their work than in other industries. Skilled professional photographers don't make as much as they could in other jobs. Or maybe there's plenty of complainers in all industries and we're just tuned into this kind.

  2. Tins, true the same happens in all fields. I spent the last quarter century working in the graphic arts supply field, a very exciting and challenging time. But along the way I saw many positions in prepress and press fall by the wayside. The Xacto knife and Rubylith was replaced by some twenty year old with a software program and a mouse. Process cameras worth tens of thousands of dollars became valueless albatrosses, plate makers and metal plates were replaced with computer-to-plate presses. The only constant in life is change. The people who bemoan the change are the ones that feel they have found a comfortable niche, an experience that entitles them. There is no such thing. You grow or you fall behind. Photography's revolution from film to digital started later than the revolution in graphic arts and it is only within the past few years that advanced technology within economic reach and is now beginning to hit home. What disturbs me is the wailing and gnashing of teeth, hurling blame; when photographers had best move on, earn their new position because the old one is disappearing. If they don't they will be like the prepress and the pressmen of fifteen or twenty years ago with their Xacto knives in pocket protectors. In the nineties I greatly enjoyed writing computer programs. Could I do that now? No way. I did not keep up with the technology, with the shifts and changes. Photographers do the same thing. What worked three or four years ago is fast becoming history.

  3. Gary I am interested in possibly using one of your images for a magazine feature I am working on. Can't seem to find any contact info for you anywhere. Please contact me asap at kate@emdashonline.com

    Thank you!