When almost every electronic device out in the world–and almost every person has an electronic device; most have more than one–can take photos, then of course, the value of photography goes down. In general, photos have become less precious (unless it’s a special photo of your great grandmother–or similar–where there’s only one physical copy, for example). “Preciousness” is inextricably bound to scarcity.
The value of a photo as “artifact”–or in digital form, an image–has plummeted because there are so many of them. The mere existence of a photo or image is not very special in and of itself.
So we turn to the actual content of the photos since the currency of a photo itself is no more special than the existence of some printed words (for example).
Along with there being so many photos, there are fewer and fewer types of content that aren’t represented adequately or (more typically perhaps) in excess.
For example, when Sally Mann was taking romantic and moody black & white photographs of her children, few mothers were doing the same. Now, some huge percentage of mothers (some fathers) have cheap or expensive DSLRs and sets of purchased Photoshop filters, Lightroom presets, and/or other computer software that make their photos look similar to those Mann masterpieces (assuming they take enough photos–which cost no extra once you’ve got the digital photography equipment–to happen upon a few standouts).
The same with street photography: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work looks almost passe amongst the current sea of thousands of street photos published daily on the web.
Older established photographers sometimes try to make a case about their work still being special because they’re still shooting film (e.g., using medium or large format film cameras that *very* few people use or know how to operate) or because they don’t have to shoot thousands of images to get their “keepers” that you, the viewer, end up seeing.
The problem is: the viewer doesn’t really care about process. A viewer (who isn’t a photographer) doesn’t care how many shots it took to get the few great ones on display. And while the use of film does have some effect on the look of the final image, almost any film quality can be emulated by a computer–at least nearly so–and probably close enough for most non-photographer viewers. Furthermore, the current quality of the images produced by digital cameras–even non-professional DSLRs–is good enough to produce high-quality prints; digital images are even commonly preferred by professional photographers for larger prints.
Ultimately, it’s not process or expertise that will make a photographer’s work stand out: it’s cleverness and creativity. The imaginative photographer will go beyond replicating the past. Being proficient or expert at doing (emulating) the photography of the past may be a necessary step in one’s evolution as a photographer, but it’s fatal in today’s photography climate as an endpoint–unless your goal is simply to be an accomplished photographic craftsman for hire.
To be a successful “photographer artist”, being expert at producing beautiful photos of flowers, sunsets, landscapes, art nudes, etc or Bresson-esque (or Winogrand-esque or Frank-esque..) b&w street photos isn’t enough to stand out and make photography a lucrative endeavor: there are too many others doing the exact same thing.
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