Is Photography Dying?

Contact Sheet

By Peter Nitsch

In the age of smart phones, such a headline/question seems surprising as (digital) photography is omnipresent today. Photography isn’t dying. However, in the digital age, it seems that all images have become more or less equal and most of the images are vanishing in the cloud.

The web has become a popular medium for storing and sharing photos since the first photograph was published on it by Tim Berners-Lee in 1992 (an image of the CERN house band Les Horribles Cernettes). Since then, the value of photography has shifted from the singular analog original to a social media phenomenon–much like Beuys’ concept of the social sculpture, in which society as a whole is to be regarded as one great work of art to which each person can contribute creatively (perhaps Beuys’ most famous phrase, borrowed from Novalis: “Everyone is an artist”).

Photography wasn’t accepted in its early days by the museums as a medium of art. It took several generations before the works of photographers were shown and collected in museums and art galleries. The rise and fall of analog photography as the dominant technology of photographic culture lasted several decades. Today the boundaries between photography and other media fade away, because photo artists work with a variety of media.

Regardless of the analog or the digital, the most important advances in photography concern the question of speed. And yet, photography was a slow medium in its first decades. Each roll of film came with 36 or 12 exposures. There is a kind of alchemy associated with the analog process–the search for the unique object/print. No two prints are the same. In this sense, they are products of art.

The bridge between amateurs and professionals around the world was created in the 1950s through the instantaneity of the Polaroid. A Polaroid image can be made and had more quickly than the photographs produced by the usual analog cameras. As Achim Heine notes in When Instant No Longer Means in a Moment, there has never been such a strong sense of instantaneity in the world as it is today in the digital age.

Some people will only accept analog photography as art, claiming that the digital process offers no creative capabilities. Digital photographers argue vice versa.

With millions of photographs uploaded every month, most people use photography just for “keep-sake” record, but it is the photographer who registers the experience of sight as images that last physically and, more importantly, in our minds. Photography is again at a pivotal moment in its history. It is difficult to predict its future, like the child in the image here, it’s learning, shifting, evolving and developing.

Peter Nitsch is a designer and photographer based in Munich and Bangkok. / http://www.peternitsch.com

Advertisements