There is no question that digital imaging and the internet have revolutionized the art of photography. Now everyone with a camera and a computer has the ability to take literally unlimited amounts of photographs, without any of the previous “arcane technical knowledge” required in the days of manual cameras and instantly display them to an audience of millions of people.
Now I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing, it’s just a fact.
The flipside to this is that now millions of people sitting on the internet looking at photosharing sites are now essentially “photo critics”
This is an extremely thought provoking thread on flickr.com which raises a lot of tough questions about the nature of Art and Photography.
first some background: There is a Flickr group called “deleteme” where members post photos, then *in theory* the rest of the group critiques them and then votes whether to “save” the photo in the group pool, or “delete” it and remove it from the pool. The idea is that eventually, the only photos left will be the best of the best, worthy of saving.
Unfortunately in reality, this is not always the case – very often the comment threads simply become a popularity contest, or a bunch of camera-snob wannabees ragging on anthing that is not their idea of a “good photo”
Now, I suppose on a lark – one member of the group posted a Henry Cartier-Bresson photograph into the pool, without labeling or indicating what it was. This photo was “Mario’s Bike”, considered by most to be a masterpiece, a true work of art. (and if anyone doesn’t know who Cartier-Bresson was, he is generally considered one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century, his philosophy was “The Decisive Moment” which has influenced generations of street photographers, and revolutionized the genre).
Anyway, what resulted was a flamewar of epic proportions. Many folks obviously didn’t recognize the piece (kind of surprising for anyone with even a passing knowledge of photo/art history, as it is such a seminal image) and basically wrote it off as junk, voting to delete it from the pool (blurry, not in focus, grainy etc…)
The photo and thread in question can be found here:
MARIO’S BIKE ON FLICKR
Of course, all the folks who knew it to be a HCB masterpiece, had a good chuckle but the thread raises some interesting questions:
is it still a great photo even if the majority of people think it is junk? who decides what makes it great? This question essentially is going back to the eternal question of “what is art” but this just shows how much more relevant this is becoming to photography.
As the barriers to entry in photography are lowered (Owning a dSLR is now pretty much within anyone’s reach) – what happens to the “art” of photography? Is there still an absolute standard of what makes a photograph art? or does photographic art now encompass the abundance of “oversaturated, oversharpened flower macro shots” that seem to dominate the photosharing sites as the most highly regarded. Don’t even get me started on HDR!
the other effect of this ease of accessibility is that “everyone’s a critic” from the most highty trained photo curator or artist to grandpa joe who just bought his first digicam last week, and now fancies himself and expert on digital photography.
With the “great unwashed masses” having easy access to photography, without any actual knowledge as to the *art* and *craft* of photo making, there seems to be a paradigm shift in appreciation of photography from something that is art to something that is just “pretty pictures” without going beyond that.
Not to say that there is anything wrong with “pretty pictures” – I take plenty of ‘em, in fact I wouldn’t have the hubris to claim that 99% of my own photography is anything more than that. But I am always striving to create “art”, and I would hope that I have an appreciation for the true artists and masters of the medium.
And this is essentially the crux of my question:
Is the “easy availablity” of digital photography & the internet destroying our collective appreciation for the true art in the medium? Have we been so overexposed to supersaturated, supersharp, over-digitalized photos that we have lost the appreciation for other artistic aesthetics in photography?
Further, how much of our appreciation of art (photographic or otherwise) is influenced by preconceived notions? Is is possible that the only reason I consider “Mario’s Bike” a masterpiece, is that I know it is by HCB? How would I have judged it had I not know who it was by? I like to think that I would have appreciated it on it’s own merits, but since I can’t look at it without knowing the source, my speculation is tainted by my own knowledge.
Honestly, I don’t have the answers to these questions, and similar thoughts have most likely plagued artists and critics ever since the first scrawl on a cave wall. However, with the advent of technology that makes photography instantly available on demand to anyone, these questions become more relevant than ever!
P.S. – I hope this isn’t too much of an elitist rant! I happen to love flickr and all the photosharing sites, and my personal opinion is that they are a good thing for photography if for no other reason that it makes it easier to find new talent!