Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Every Picture Tells A Story

@ashalynd Two green parrots are sitting on the tree just outside of our window (it's December and it's Amsterdam). If only my mobile had a good camera!

@richardveryard Why not "if only my camera had better mobility" ? How did we all get persuaded to rely on the phone for this kinda functionality?

@j4ngis Hmm...evolution. Phones are more fit than cameras - attracting more functions etc. Dominating

@richardveryard "Quick-snap-to-share-with-friends-and-post-onto-internet" dominates over "Artfully-composed-picture-to-print-and-keep".

@HotFusionMan "Worse is better." Emotion / social psychology over reason. As it ever was.

@richardveryard Where does the value judgement come from? Why is one purpose superior to another? How has tech produced this particular shift?

@j4ngis We also have (with new tech) more pics and far more photographers. Maybe the sum of "art-value" is constant?

@j4ngis Thinking: Quality of television is constant over time. But now spread over more channels and networks.

@HotFusionMan I don't think a value judgment's being made, just an observation. For "worse is better" here's a citation: The Rise of "Worse is Better" (By Richard Gabriel)

One of the interesting questions that this brief Twitter discussion brings out is what exactly triggered a change in the way we think about photography?

Clearly there is a whole lot of technology change here as well as technologically-led business change (these are not the same thing). My list would include the introduction of digital cameras, the growth of the internet, the ability to send photos by email, the ability to post photos onto websites like Flickr, the appearance of tiny lens cameras on personal devices such as mobile phones, phone networks wanting to sell picture messaging.

But there are many other technological opportunities that have not taken off in quite this fashion, so the other half of the explanation needs to look at the emotional and social drivers for this particular change. It's interesting to see how an older obsession with a certain notion of quality (perfect pictures, perfect sound) has been supplanted with a desire for convenience. In the past, people who could afford it would spend considerable amounts of money on expensive hi-fi equipment in order to escape from scratchy record-players and hissy radios, as well as large cameras with fancy lenses; their children and grandchildren now cheerfully consume low-fi music and video via phones and internet. One is only better than the other if you accept an apparently outdated obsession with perfection. This would be my take on the "worse is better" narrative.

Meanwhile, professional or serious hobby photographers will always use whatever tools are available to them. For example, in the days before digital cameras, professional photographers used Polaroid to get an instant preview of a shot, before adjusting the lighting for the "real" photograph. Thus perhaps the "art-value" remains constant, as @j4ngis suggests. Or at least quasi-stable.

@ashalynd tells me she doesn't have a camera now (not a working one, at least :) ) Obviously she isn't the only one. The distribution of camera-power has changed, in a way that nobody could have predicted. Technology has certainly changed the landscape, but it is people who have chosen to follow certain paths rather than others. That's what I find fascinating.

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