After Photography

People once said, “Digital sucks, I’m sticking with film.” People once said, “I’ll create a library of images (stock? almost forgot it existed…), retire young and live off my royalties.” People once said, “The sky (cloud?) is falling.” People (me) have said, “This is the most interesting time in history to be a photographer.” It’s a known fact that more photographs are being used, licensed, sold today than ever before in history. Some photographers are thriving, growing, and emerging. Others are dying.

All these messages and more can make it difficult, exciting, or confusing, or worse–all three at the same time–to formulate opinions on what it means to be a photographer.

The following seems to add to this messaging. Fred Ritchin, an NYU photography professor, just kicked out a new book titled, After Photography, which explores the democratization and manipulation of photography via digital cameras and computers. (Buy it here.)

Some excerpts from the Time Magazine review by Kate Pickert:

1. On the idea of rising influence of photo editing via computer software: “[F]or the first time I saw a photographer as no more than a paid researcher looking for images for someone else to re-present…In the days of film one would have had to be physically on site to be able to micromanage the photographer; the photographer’s autonomy was somewhat more impervious…Increasingly, much of the photographic process will occur after the shutter is released. The photograph becomes the initial research, an image draft, as vulnerable to modification as it has always been to recontextualization.”

2. On the future of photography online: “[A] new photographic template for the digital environment could be devised in which information is hidden in all the four corners of the image so that those interested could make it visible by placing the cursor over each corner to create a roll-over…Unlike an analog photograph where the viewer is told never to touch its center for fear of smudges, the reader is invited into the interior of the digital image…”

3. On how digital and cellular phone cameras break down limits on who can get images out into the world: “[A]mateurs increasingly cover the news more effectively than professionals, as was the case in the London bombing of 2005, the racist rant by actor Michael Richards, or the return of the American war dead in caskets. They also frequently make the news, such as soldiers’ photographs made in the Abu Ghraib prison or the videos of captive either pleading for their lives or being murdered that are expressly made by insurgents to foment terror…It may be time for professionals to pay more attention to how amateurs envision the world.”


More from the review and my brief thoughts about it after the jump. Hit the ‘continue reading’ link below…


4. On the everyday uses of digital photography in the future: “The increasing cyborgization of people in which cell phones, iPods, and laptops reach near-appendage state will see photography extended into an all-day strategy, including images that are made according to involuntary stimuli such as brain waves and blood pressure. The camera will also be circulating within our bodies and stationed in our homes, acting proactively to warn us of and possibly attempt to correct any problems (disease, fire, an accident), even on the molecular level.”


While the review goes on to reveal a certain disappointment in the inaccessible, “academic-sounding” prose, I’m still planning to give it a read.

My thoughts on this stuff? The title intrigues me the most. After photography. Hmmm. I think what Norton’s really saying with the title is: “After Photography As We Know (KNEW?) It.” Far less catchy, I know. He and his editors are smart. Photography is not going away, but it’s changing at light speed, and what looks like photography today, might not resemble photography tomorrow. And I’m not talking sylistically. I’m talking conceptually an symbolically, as in “What IS photography”.

Like a mouse who’s regular cheese stash has suddenly been moved, we pro photographers have two choices: 1) squeek about that cheese being moved, or 2)go find more cheese, new cheese. Photographers new to the cheese race? Go find that cheese for the first time. To the cheese buyers? There’s a range of cheeses out there, from stinky to bland, and from cheap to very very dear. Enjoy the dining options, you’ve got the whole range to choose from, and each one comes at a price.

[CheesePuns fully intended. Have a great weekend. (via Guy Kawasaki)]

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36 Responses to After Photography

  1. jeremy earl December 19, 2008 at 10:58 am #

    i think we need to start seperating “photographers” from “photoshopers”, that is the key. with enough photoshop anyone can sharpen, brighten, and ehance a photo, but a photographer uses the tools on set through light, focus and composition to create a photo.

    so if the “photographers” could go stand over there, and the “photoshopers” could stand over there we can start handing out key cards.

  2. Michael Walker December 19, 2008 at 11:22 am #

    @jeremy

    and the guys in the middle survive while the ones on the right and left starved as there was no cheese left. poor guys.

  3. Anonymous December 19, 2008 at 11:30 am #

    I think it is arrogant to want to separate the two- “photographers” and “photoshopers”. I want to know how it is any different what someone can do with photoshop than what was done in the past in the darkrooms with time differences, enlargers, different chemical mixes?
    Anyone who wants, or needs, to separate will, as Michael says, go hungry. I would imagine that there are some that would tell jeremy that if you need a “set” you ain’t a photographer either. Just food for thought.
    And really I think we all agree- a crappy photo is going to be crappy whether it is taken “on set” or improved digitally.

  4. Scott Van Dyke December 19, 2008 at 11:31 am #

    You either embrace the changes to come to grow, or you will be left behind. No one knows what the photography future will hold. Enjoy the ride I say.

  5. Nick Masters December 19, 2008 at 11:47 am #

    Mmm.. delicious cheeses.

  6. Jonny December 19, 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    With the onset of one of the worst recessions in the last 100 years, I think more than a few people are worried that ‘carving out a niche and adapting’ is more about survival, than purely a personal stance on photography.

    As far as separating photographers from photoshoppers: I think this viewpoint is even less valid than it once was. Reason being that now, more than ever before, it’s the final result that matters to the end user/viewer. Most people don’t care what the RAW image looks like, they just want to see an effective end result.

  7. jeremy earl December 19, 2008 at 12:23 pm #

    My fault, i was inclear in my point, and I appologize if i came across as arrogant, i’m far from it, i mean…have you seen my work?! haa haa.

    I was speaking more on a small scale as I am small time in a small town. I see the work of photographers here that take badly composed, poorly lit and out of focus photos with no concern for white balance at all. They then take these images into photoshop and put as much time into reworking them as they did shooting them, that is what i am refering to. There is no concern for the actual photography part of it, not adherance to any standard of quality or image, they are just looking for the quick and easy path to becomeing the next dave lachapelle, rather than wanting to be a good photographer.

    That to me is a “photoshoper”.

    That is my point, at my low level over here i see that alot, people who pick up a camera and show no eye towards taking a great photo, rather they take a picture and photoshop the heck out of it till it looks good, when a photographer would take the time and understanding to take a great photo from the start…and they aspire to be proffesioinal photographers.

    so I was just sharing my point of view from down at the bottom of the ladder in small town nh :-)

    and no, i can’t spell.

  8. Richard Cave December 19, 2008 at 12:34 pm #

    I am Lactose Tolerant so cheese is a big no no, I could end up in a pickle, and Britain is famous for its Cheese and Pickle sandwiches.

    I am a pro press phot, only levels, sharpen and crop are allowed.

    However I am Digital Matte painter on the side so am a heavy photoshopper.

    The two never meet professionally, however versality sells.

    As long as you have Reputation, Imagination and Versality you will survive.

    However the mom and pop shops have the ability to survive. Which is a anomaly in a concurrent fiscal market.

    Remember the higher the pedestal you place yourself the higher the fall will be.

    I have through necessity become a jack of all trades , master of none.

  9. Michael Walker December 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm #

    @jeremy

    ah i misunderstood it then, I’m sorry

    nevertheless there might be a lot of people using photoshop to undo the mistakes they did before but it’s an urban legend that one can make a good picture out of a bad one, just with the help of photoshop. you might be able to change the whilebalance, the exposure and add some sharpness though you can’t change the models’ facial expression nor the lighting set-up.

    the way to a good picture requires both a great picture to start with and an appropriate post processing.
    that has been true true back in the time of the darkroom and it’s still true with the digital equivalent.

    if you’re a photoshoper, you’ll lose and if you’re a photographer giving a sh.. about post processing you won’t get much of the cheese either, nowadays at least.

  10. Aaron December 19, 2008 at 12:49 pm #

    It’s Friday afternoon and it’s snowing out; I’ll have to agree with Nick M for now.

    Anyone for some imported, cave-aged gouda?

  11. Alyx December 19, 2008 at 1:07 pm #

    I am glad I waited to post- giving jeremy a chance to take heat from others.

    Ultimately I agree with the “you cannot make a bad photo good no matter the tools you use” statement. Bad light, focus and all of that will only be mildly improved within Photoshop like software. But really, you know when you are looking at a crap photo- digitally remastered or not.

    However if you take a great photo- a freakin masterpiece- without Photoshop, then great. But even in those cases a great photo also has so much more potential when handed over to Photoshop. The crops and color shifts you can do- a world is opened up and many other pieces can be produced. That is what photographers need to embrace in order to succeed.

    I am a really small fish in this pond, so this is from the most amateur POV. jeremy what you describe is someone who I would refer to as a hack.

  12. Dominic Egan December 19, 2008 at 1:12 pm #

    A nice piece of Wenslydale Gromet. Great article we are
    & always limited by our own imagination, circumstance, & status somewhat.Skills area skills it seems to me & if you can sell it. Good on ya mate. Thanks to folk like Jarvis for trying to raise all boats with the tide.

  13. Anonymous December 19, 2008 at 3:27 pm #

    This is one of my professors at NYU. His thoughts and insights about photography and its impact on society and its role in it are very interesting.

    Also Chase if you read this:
    The authors name is Fred Ritchin not Fred Ritchin Norton. Norton is the name of the publisher of the book.

  14. GeoWulf December 19, 2008 at 3:49 pm #

    Some may argue that it’s not Photography anymore. It’s Digital Still/Motion Image Capture.

    One thing for sure is that change is in the future!

  15. greenandothercolors December 19, 2008 at 8:53 pm #

    who cares! if you want to make an image in a camera and tweak it by (fill in your favorite tool box cliche here) then do it. Call yourself a photo-whatever.
    If however, you are attempting to make a living in this field, you have to consider a couple of things. Different clients (bankers) have different perceptions on what “good” is. If they like an off white balanced, slightly out of focus, no detail in the shadows shot because it looks “cool” then it gets sold, and the shooter gets a few bucks, maybe famous if they do it enough. If you prefer to hold true to your schooling and only believe a good image is a result of master level photography and finessing the light through the lens you are likely to be frustrated by those who achieve a similar result via a different path. Some call this accepting diversity. Both approaches happen all the time, it’s not a mater of what’s right or wrong but a personal perspective of which diving board you are on.

    Either way, as photographers today we all need to prepare to jump and meet the needs of our bankers once in a while so we can continue to play with our own favorite “tools” and have a little fun along the way. Express your own visual creativity and don’t judge others on how they approach the craft.

  16. danieljenkins December 20, 2008 at 6:04 am #

    I like cheese! yummy!

    I’m finding more cheese easier and faster than I have since I chose to jump the second time in early 2005. Perhaps I’m just reaching that point in my career, perhaps it’s my tenacity paying off, perhaps it’s the shift in the market…

    85% of my marketing efforts that are effective are based on word of mouth, social networking, and the relationships that I build with my clients, my peers, and my contacts and my personal friends.

    Potential clients are coming to me because of an article I wrote on a blog, on a forum, or a short conversation in a cafe, pub, or social gathering.

    and when it comes down to the technical aspects of the shoot, whatever it takes to get the shot!

    Great read, Chase. Thanks for sharing.

    Daniel
    http://danieljenkinsphoto.com

  17. admin December 20, 2008 at 1:00 pm #

    This has sparked me into thinking about the “older” generation of photographers vs. the “newer-younger” (No digital switch, until they absolutely had to to stay in business), generation of photographers (meaning the ones that embraced digital right away and the ones that started digitally).

    We have all used the tools available to us at the time to create what we think is the best image of our subject. Photoshop is another tool to the digital photographer and we all are very thankful for it. Does it mean that we have to photoshop every image? No. But I like many see the photo on the screen and know right away it is not exactly what I saw, so I tweek here and there to make it more like I saw it. (This does not include, creating something “cool” just for the sake of creating it. I’m talking purist here.)

    I embrace the RAW file as a tool to my advantage, I gain all those tone that would not have available before!!! I would be a fool not to use it. As a photographer I want to make an image that looks exactly like what I saw, and I will openly embrace all means to get that.

    (The real question that it killing me is, Do I remove that one little dust speck? I am a purist.)

  18. Jason Bell December 21, 2008 at 3:13 am #

    1. On the idea of rising influence of photo editing via computer software: “[F]or the first time I saw a photographer as no more than a paid researcher looking for images for someone else to re-present..

    I think that view is two years out of date. There was a wave of photoshopped images that didn’t look like the photo that was originally take, just for the sake of proving that it could be done.

    That didn’t hold the attention of picture editors for too long, fashion changes and so does the in thing in regards to images.

    Me personally am looking to get things right in camera all the time, that means planning, preparation and an end in mind. The post production was just to tidy up small things. As it’s already been said, you can’t make a bad picture good in photoshop.

  19. Anonymous December 21, 2008 at 11:41 am #

    Photoshoppers will grow more and more irrelevant. The tools are getting easier and easier. Hell, my Dad can use Aperture. It’s just a series of sliders. Sure, theory helps, but welcome back to the rise of the photographer. Photoshop is dying.

  20. Blake December 21, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    Yes, it's sad that the amateurs are taking a lot of the pros' business, but the people that go to amateurs seem happy enough with what they're getting. The photos the pros would take are usually going to be much better, but isn't it a good thing that there's a market now for people that want a good enough looking photo? Yes, a crappy DSLR shot and Walmart print is good enough for most people.

    Don't complain about it, deal with it. Many – if not most – people are happy enough with imperfect and cheap holiday portraits. Decent family portraits and wedding candids are worth less than they used to be. I think the talented photographers will be survive.

    Fighting it it useless – I like what Chase is saying here – he seems open to the change and ready to embrace it. Yes, there's going to be a lot less family portraits to shoot, since everyone has their own DSLR now, but why fight it? How about those portrait photographers get out and do something new and different?

    Boring photography is being infiltrated by amateurs – embrace it.

    Complaining about the end of the current era does no good.


    Let's all stop using email and start mailing all of our correspondence via snail mail. And, let's hire calligraphers to make these letters even more enjoyable to open. And, we'll use wax seals to keep them closed during horse and buggy transport, so we can keep the wooden stamp makers, horse-drawn buggy makers, and old-fashioned postal carriers in business.

    If you're a professional photographer who is upset about this — really fired up that your portrait business is drying up because people are buying DSLRs… then maybe it's time you reevaluate what you're doing.

    Branch out, take more creative photos… Let the amateurs make you better. Employ some creative off-camera lighting that the amateurs aren't going to attempt anytime soon. Take photos that they can't, or don't know how to. Hold seminars where you take all of these amateurs, and teach them what else is on their dial besides "P" mode.

    This new era is a good thing. If you're a photographer and care about your craft, then this will make you better. If this sinks your business, then there's a chance that your heart wasn't in it to begin with.

    With all of that said, and in full disclosure (:)), I'm an overly enthusiastic amateur photographer that occasionally takes portraits for friends and family – when I find the time between reading photography blog posts, watching off-camera lighting seminar DVDs, and taking part in the Flickr community.

  21. emile December 23, 2008 at 3:50 am #

    It’s The End Of The World As We Know It .. And I Feel Fine

  22. Anonymous December 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm #

    I agree with 泡面 !

  23. cny December 26, 2008 at 11:56 am #

    The shift felt in the photography world now must be something akin to what was felt after George Eastman’s introduction of rolled photography film in 1888 and his subsequent brownie camera in 1900. Prior to this, if one wanted a family portrait, it was only done by a professional and then only at a studio. Technology paved the way for the masses to take many of their own pics (especially after the Brownie 127 hit the streets in 1952).

    Was this the end of photography? Here were all of these rank amateurs taking photos of family members and travel destinations, without the slightest idea about what it takes to produce a really “professional” photo! Was this the end of photography? No! If anything, it was one of many rebirths of photography. It caused people to look at photography with renewed interest.

    I believe digital represents yet another rebirth of photography and I embrace it with zeal. Granted, I am one of those rank amateurs and my livelihood is not impacted by this shift. Nonetheless, if I were a pro, I believe I would still embrace this trend for the potential it brings.

  24. Michael Yip December 28, 2008 at 7:32 am #

    I think photography has just entered a new circle of evolution. Adapt and you’ll survive, ignore the changes and you’ll live but won’t go far.

    It’s just how we look at things. Really interesting to ponder.

  25. Deke January 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    hmm … some good points here but, I’m missing the ethical question. I think at issue is the deliberate composite of image pieces into an image that otherwise couldn’t have existed on its own; either by circumstance or reality.

    I understand the composite for advertising, making my widget seem glamorous in what would be an unearthly manner; something I’m not going to witness in person but conceptually accept.

    However; journalism suffers greatly today with editorializing by the author … don’t believe me? Turn on the news tonight! Sensationalism permeates the air we breath, fear sells, truth dies a little more. And I think that begs the question … are the images I’m looking at truthful? Am I getting the complete unbiased story?

    With the advent of computer composites, will we be mislead, misinformed about the world around us?

    The answer is … we could. The average consumer does not perceive image making the way we familiar with the technology do. Even using black and white film to make an image there were touch-up “artists” to alter the final result of printing. Playboy has been altering images with an airbrush for years!

    Here’s the deal as I see it … I want images that are truthful if truth is the immediate context of its use! I also want that bruise on the back of her leg to be airbrushed out because frankly … in the context of Playboy … I want fantasy!

    So … I want journalists to be truthful, I want advertisers to dazzle me, I want photographers and photoshoppers to express their creativity. But, when you mix the three and claim it to be the truth, we’ve all lost.

  26. Chase Jarvis January 2, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    I’m with Deke.

  27. Anonymous January 5, 2009 at 3:25 am #

    Very true article, I’d love to read the book. Do you think amazon’ll have it?

    I stumbled on another blog, and the author posted a post quiet like yours, well not quiet as good for sure, but commenting resembling themes.

    Well I liked it anyways, for all those interested
    http://www.mmphoto.be/blog/?p=79

    Anyway, great work chase! When’s the next video due?

    Thomas Calding

  28. Chase Jarvis January 5, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    @ anon (Thomas) –
    amazon has the book.

    video coming soon ;)

  29. Thomas Calding January 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    Aah, great, can’t wait for it!

    Thomas

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