17 June 2016

The New Yorker: “In the Future, we will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing”

To understand Google’s decision, one needs to understand how our relationship with photographs has changed. From analog film cameras to digital cameras to iPhone cameras, it has become progressively easier to take and store photographs. Today we don’t even think twice about snapping a shot. About two years ago, Peter Neubauer, the co-founder of the Swedish database company Neo Technology, pointed out to me that photography has seen the value shift from the stand-alone individual aesthetic of the artist to the collaborative and social aesthetic of services like Facebook and Instagram. In the future, he said, the real value creation will come from stitching together photos as a fabric, extracting information and then providing that cumulative information as a totally different package.

His comments make sense: we have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.

Om Malik

The article was written in response to Google’s decision to make the Nik photo editing software free for users, but the paragraphs above reminded me of some personal reflections during a trip to Iceland in February. Even though it was still winter, there were many groups of photographers around (mostly from the US and Asia) on the same route we took along the southern shore of the island. With cheaper and more widely available DSLR technology and rising incomes all over the world, there will be more and more photographers on the market, a flood of pictures fueled not only by amateurs using smartphones, but also by prosumers and aspiring photographers getting their first camera and exploring the world. Which is on one hand a good thing for creativity and competition, but on the other hand the inflation of photos means individual photos become less and less important, get less and less attention. This trend is shifting photography into cheap entertainment, an endless stream of images flowing on Instagram and Facebook for the quick amusement of people during breaks, and making it harder and harder to identify and appreciate photography as art.

In the Future, We Will Photograph Everything and Look at Nothing
photograph by Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP

A similar question was raised on an interesting podcast, LensWork Daily, in episode 945 “Art or Entertainment” – you can listen it here through iTunes.

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