The Impact of Technology in Changing Photographic Trends
Street photographers are a passionate bunch. To speak ill of this genre of photography, one will certainly get an earful. But, hear me out. Street photography in its present form makes little sense in the modern era. The way it’s generally practiced, and the work product typically generated falls short of what was once produced. This is not to say the practice of street photography should be abandoned. But you must admit, much of it does seem redundant.
Admittedly, part of my misgiving towards street photography is the practice of taking photos of unsuspecting strangers without their consent. Having worked many years in the fashion industry, my views towards the use of another person’s likeness deviates from the mainstream attitude subscribed by street photographers. Yes, I know the laws of most jurisdictions permit the taking of photos in public spaces. But, doesn't the unsuspecting subject have a say?
That’s just me of course. However, my situation differs from many. It’s much easier for me to sit high aloft my perch and sound all righteous. With that being said, doesn’t it bother you that these unsuspecting subjects don’t want to be a part of your photograph? And I don’t mean it from a moral perspective. Just look at the results from your daily haul. It’s just photos upon photos of people misplaced in composition from a lack of cooperation.
It makes one wonder how the great masters coaxed a smile out of their unsuspecting subjects. No one today seems to even come close to what they did in their day. But to be fair to contemporary street photographers, times have changed. Even if a skilled street photographer today can get an unsuspecting subject to smile for the camera, the resulting documentation would not be received with the same fanfare enjoyed by the great masters.
Frankly, the great masters never had to work a crowd as tough as our present day audience. Back in the day, people weren’t exposed to as much visual noise. But then, the rise of idiot proof digital photography and online digital publishing changed the way the world looked at photos of people we don’t know. I mean, what value is there in street photos of people misplaced in composition if many are already willingly sharing photos of themselves?
Technology has leveled the playing field by taking down the barrier-to-entry once enjoyed by the great masters. Now, any novice with a smart device and a social media account can also be a photographer and a publisher. As such, anything that can be documented can be photographed and published from a first person perspective. Thus, the need for an intermediary to do street photography from a third person perspective would seem unnecessary.
It might seem that I am unfairly singling out street photography. In truth, all I am attempting to do is frame an argument in an easily relatable context. Nothing I write will slow down the popularity of street photography. Why would it? After all, it is the only accessible way for the majority of enthusiasts to photograph people beyond just family, friends, and acquaintances. However, there is a much bigger issue that no one seems to be addressing.
Trends ebb and flow in photography, like most any creative undertaking. With it, technology has changed the relevance of street photography in its present day form - in much the same way its changing the relevance of other genres too. This is especially true in the way images (or rather content) are produced and evaluated. With the world generating millions upon millions of images shared freely online, how could the way we look at a photograph remain unchanged?
So in the context of street photography, would it make sense to imitate the great masters? In my opinion, technology has rendered mimicking that objective increasingly dubious - especially from a recreational perspective. Digital technology in making photography more accessible has ruined the genre by making the public turn against unsolicited documentation of their likeness. But more importantly, it has also flooded the world with poorly taken photographs.
Unsurprisingly, I have turned my back on street photography. The world has changed too much from those halcyon days of neighborly norms - before the outcry for privacy reared its head in response to a mainstream consensus that street photography can be predatory in intent. Because of that, I decided to reframe my focus. I mean, I don’t want to be one of the millions upon millions sharing poorly taken photos of uncooperative street subjects.
So where does that leave me in a world where everyone is a photographer and a publisher? Key to resolving my predicament is a better awareness of how technology has impacted photography. After all, it’s technology that has brought us to where photography is today. It was then I realized where the trends were leading me all along. It’s time to move on and emerge from the shadows of precedent, given how much technology has changed the world.
But of all the trends brought forth by technology, the most impactful is the effect social media has on the types of photos we typically take and share today. Understanding the intent of social media is self promotion, photography have become more personal in nature. Where in the past the photographer kept some distance in preserving the visual narrative of a photo, social media has brought the photographer to the forefront, with selfies and other first person accounts.
We are currently living in a narcissistic era where imagination is fleeting. People want immediate gratification in both sharing and receiving photos. We don’t want to figure out the visual narrative of a photo, whether we’re posting a life event or scrolling through our social media feed. We’re only interested in visual testimonials where the content is self evident. In other words, all anyone wants disclosed in a shared image is how one looks, where one is, and what one has.
From a traditional perspective, it’s easy to be dismissive towards this prevailing trend. However, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this shift in attitude. Personally, I do find it refreshingly honest. Because of that, I have adopted this approach in my documentation process, since it’s far less demanding to my work flow. I mean, no longer must I endure the pretense of giving meaning to a photograph. Now, with whatever I photograph, it is what it is.
We tend to believe photography exists in a vacuum, and that technology only affects trends in gear. Fact is, when there are changes in technology, there will also be changes in the medium. Even so, just because there’s change, it doesn’t mean that everyone is obligated to change. That said, it’s worth noting that most will likely adapt to change. Whether its from film to digital or from print to social media, change is a natural progression.
Still, change isn’t necessarily permanent. Despite the exodus from film to digital capture, analog photography still exists. For that reason, this blog post was shot on film. Having said that, I still don’t want to do street photography. Honestly, it’s just not for me.
Images have been tweaked in Adobe Lightroom. Negatives were digitized on a Pakon F135, and cropped by the scanner. One image has been cropped.