Why the State of Photography is Better Than Most People Think


Photography has had a relatively short history if we omit the years of the camera obscura. Today, the almost 200 years of photography's history becomes humble if we put it on par with longer histories like those of painting and poetry. Within this span of time, photography has seen many changes, thanks to technological advances. The camera as a tool is beautiful and considered by some as a work of art; others say it as a result of scientific genius. Whatever position we take on the camera’s attributes, it is commonly recognized that the camera, thanks to the decisions of its operator, has produced transcendental and meaningful images of our history as human beings, especially in the twentieth century.

“The difference between us (photographers) than everyone else

is that we take what we do very seriously.”

Annie Leibovitz

 “The Language of photography continues to get more interesting

and more complex as it becomes the most universal

medium of communication worldwide.”

Jim Casper

Humans tend to feel that things in the past were better. Woody Allen explains this fact in a simple and humorous way in this film, which doesn't require any special intellect to understand (but is more enjoyable if you have a minimum of taste for the arts in general). Also, because of certain technological advances that have benefited photography, some feel pessimistic about the current state of photography. But let me tell you: the state of photography today is phenomenal.

Me on the Streets.

Personally, I am convinced that photography is better than ever, because it has allowed many people to access cameras and to consume images. On one hand, this democratization has undermined the quality of the content we consume – but at least we have access to it. It is our decision as photographers to worry about consuming photographs that really tell us something, and it is our responsibility to create meaningful images that say something. If it wasn't for this access to the tool and for the technological advances, I would not be able to enjoy carrying a camera with me at all times. I have nothing against the current state of photography, and long ago I stopped feeling false nostalgia and thinking that “it was better in the old days.”

Photo by The Digital Marketing Collaboration on Unsplash

Now I want to tell you about some of the realities that have arisen thanks to modern photography.

Social Change

In recent years, a lot of projects have shown that photography can help spur important social change. Not only because it shows very crude realities ­– like when photography and television helped American people to break their paradigms about the Vietnam War. Today, photography can serve people from vulnerable communities as a mean of expression and catharsis. Less well-known projects like FotoKids in Guatemala have helped children avoid joining gangs and engaging in other criminal activities. Large projects like “my London” in first-world cities have shown us that the perspectives of those who live within the city’s daily life is much more sincere and interesting than we can photograph as alienated entities of this reality.

Photo by Harold Wijnholds on Unsplash

On July 1, 2016, 105 homeless men and women gathered at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Each of them was given a disposable camera and told to take pictures that represent “my London”. Here are some of the amazing pictures these people captured.

These are just some isolated examples that for reasons of time cannot be considered sufficient to represent such an important movement.

Immediate Information

Photojournalism has an informative nature, therefore it doesn't need to have an elaborate aesthetic (although there may be cases in which a very capable photographer executing a journalistic work delights us with highly beautiful images). And that has meant that the public endorse, and consume without remorse, images made viral through social media, especially if they help to complain about something. This presents a problem for photojournalists and the traditional media, but it is not a problem for photography itself.

Photo by Max Delsid on Unsplash

As human beings, we are highly capable of adapting, but more interestingly, of replicating or imitating certain things. Everything we consume can influence in our style, and even a person without any formal aesthetic formation can develop a very capable eye for capturing scenes in a way pleasing to our eyes.

Access to High Quality content

It is pretty hard in my country for me to find high-quality content, especially when it comes to books or exhibitions. Thanks to the internet, and everything I mentioned above, today I can consume fresh photographs from all over the globe.

Analog Photography

Analog photography has generated interest among photographers perhaps because of the rise of filters and “vintage” looks, or probably just through an interest in knowing how things were done before. Many photographers have benefited from learning analog photography these days, because it has made their “keeper ratio” improve, by helping them to take fewer but better photographs. Analog photography develops a “resource-oriented” mindset when it comes to pressing the shutter button. In my case, I simply found analog photography to be very therapeutic; it allows me to take pictures that are not necessarily important for what I do, but they serve me as a playful exercise.

Photo by Anca Luchit on Unsplash

We all have the unprecedented capability of having powerful cameras in our pockets thanks to photographic technology’s nature of doubling its power approximately every two years ­ and that, my friends, is not a bad thing to have. So we must stop complaining about the state of photography being awful. We need to find new business strategies if our worries are oriented towards sustainability, and we must enjoy the humongous quantities of images we can access today.

Oh, and if you’re defending DSLR cameras against Mirrorless Systems, let me just remind you that when the 35mm film format arrived, photographers mocked its size by calling it a postage stamp.

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

Hi Federico.
One of the great things I’ve enjoyed with photography is sharing pictures – sharing the ones other people take, sharing with them the ones that I’ve taken. You can “describe” something you’ve seen, verbally – but a photograph says a thousand words, in one hit.
Another, is what you’ve just done. And this is very much part of the culture of the internet, too, these days. Like so many other professional and more experienced amateur photographers, you’ve taken time out to share your knowledge and experience with others. Occasionally trolls surface and say the horrible things that trolls say. But in general, there’s a friendship and a willingness to share, which is one of the real pleasures of photography.
Your comments on analogue – and people getting into it, now – remind me of an article I read recently suggesting that one of the “advantages” of shooting JPEGs, rather than RAW images, is that it makes us try harder, to get it right in the camera. With RAW in particular, and digital in general, there’s an awful tendency for people to fire away and take several – maybe dozens, even – of shots of the same thing, and choose the keepers later. Of course that’s always been true, with professionals, who must make sure they DID capture the “best shot”. But that’s no reason why EVERYONE shouldn’t be aiming at the “best shot”, right from the start. And “trying harder”, before pressing the button, is very much part of it.

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