WARNING: this article may be rambling and disjointed, as it’s just kind of a stream of consciousness of some things that have been kicking around in my head the past few days. Further disclaimer: while I am talking about film/digital this is not a film vs digital superiority debate.
One of the non-photography-related blogs I like is Seth Godin’s blog (for those who don’t know Seth is a *legitimate* marketing guru, (unlike the “OMG use Twitter to make millions types), and posts various thought provoking comments/thoughts on his blog every day)
Email is dying because it’s free. If you can send an email for free to 100 of your closest friends, instantly, you probably won’t abuse the privilege. But someone else will because they might define ‘friend’ differently than you or I.
100 times 100 is ten thousand. Spam.
So now, people don’t reply when you send them a resume, because it costs too much to do that ten thousand times.
Twitter is next. The paradox is obvious: to grow, you need to remove friction from the medium. If it’s not easy and free to use, people won’t. But then it gets big and it becomes profitable, so people use it too much.
The churn rate at twitter is reported as more than 50%. That’s because of lack of friction as well. Easy to get in, easy to get out.
Stamps are underrated. Friction rewards intent and creates scarcity.
I like that quote “Friction rewards intent”
It also made me think about Alec Soth – Recently I also had the opportunity to see Alec speak, and he opened his piece by talking about a recent “crisis in photography” that he was going through. Albert over at dragonballyee.com has a nice summary/analysis of this, which I will summarize/quote instead of trying to write out my own long winded piece
In short – photography is suffering from “information overload” much like email or twitter. There are 4 *million* pictures uploaded to flickr every day, the vast majority of them snapshots – fragments. Digital cameras give us this capability, they remove the “friction” from the medium. Cameras are ubiquotous, there is no “investment” involved in taking a picture. *anyone* can literally take a picture of *anything* without even having to think about it.
William Eggleston made an art form of elevating photos of the mundane to the extrordinary. but what happens now when you can take a random selection of snapshots from flickr, mix them in with Egglestons’ work and unless you were an art historian probably couldn’t tell the difference. Alec pointed out Flickr’s 2 *billionth* (with a B) photo, and how it looks remarkably similar to an Eggleston.
We have accepted that Photography as an art form can make the mundane extraordinary, but what about when the mundane is just mundane? And if so, is this particular aesthetic losing meaning in the realm of photography – largely discredited because of the medium itself?
How are these “random snapshots” different than the work of the “masters”? or are they even different at all?
does the sheer volume dilute the meaning of the medium?
Of course the 1,000 pound gorilla in the room is *digital*. Film provides “friction” to use Seth’s term. There is a *physical* limitation to shooting film that provides constraints, both physical and otherwise. I’ve hear of digital wedding shooters coming home with 8,000-10,000 images from a single wedding! try doing that with a Hasselblad! It makes me wonder if they are even *looking* at what they are shooting or just pointing their camera at everything in sight and holding down the shutter in burst mode until the card fills up. But in essence, why shouldn’t they? there is no penalty for doing so – no film to pay for, develop, make contact prints (or scan), print etc…
The best photographers will tell you that they are always shooting. always carry a camera, always be making photos. But that presumes that we are *thinking* about the photos we make – that there is intent, purpose. When every click of our shutter costs a nickle, or a quarter, or 5 dollars we think alot more about what we point it at when we click that button.
What happens when the friction is removed from that as well? On one hand it’s a great thing – now we can Always Be Shooting without hesitation or worrying about film, but what happens if and when we stop *thinking* about what we are shooting? does it change the meaning of the activity?
Have you ever gone to a tourist spot, and seen hordes of amateur photographers standing in the same spot, taking photo after photo of the same subject? It puzzles me – why take 27 photos of the exact same thing?
Medium and meaning, meaning and medium.
Where I think this is going is that while there is no question that digital has changed the way we “do” photography, the question is: has it actually changed the *meaning* of photography in and of itself?
I don’t know the answer to that question, or even if there is one. But it’s definitely something to think about, particularly when thinking about purpose and meaning in one’s own art.