Accordion player from a Mexican street Mariachi band
During my life time as a photographer I have seen tremendous changes in a very short time, some good some bad. When I was studying back in 1992 digital was entering the field of photography at last and this thing called photoshop was starting to change the world. It was both exciting and scary at the same time. For some one that had computer in his hand before getting his own camera this was not so scary but interesting and I dove in this field fully from all possible and un possible angles.
Soon after graduation and moving back to Iceland to start my carrier as freelance photographer, this thing internet started to weave its thread into our life and around our necks. This was no less exciting than what was happening with in digital photography and it also meant easier access to the images of other photographers. It made the learning curve steeper at the same time it shortened the learning time and it was now easier than before to learn about new things. Gone where the days of weekly deliverance of British journal of photography to get inside technical information and the amount of american photo, Italian photo and other magazines diminished on my shelf.
Little did I know that when it was said that photography was dead that it might actually be right. At that time I was furious over such a nonsense talk and said that photography would never dye. But when I started diving deeper into the thought I understood better what was being said and it was in fact right. Photography was dead. That is photography as we knew it was not slowly dying it was dying at a fast rate. The evolving of the internet and digital photography was not only moving photography forward it was killing photography as we used to know it and it has since slowly been choking photography.
It may sound strange that at the same time as photography is more popular than ever it could be dead. How can that be. The world is overflowing with images and we are taking more pictures than ever before. Still photography as we used to know it is dead. The witness of that is all the films and analogue cameras that no longer are being manufactured. Who could have believed 10 years ago that companied like Ilford and Kodak could go bankrupt. Very few I guess. But its a proof of a point of a dying medium. Evolution is killing photography.
As much excitement as all this new technology of modern day digital cameras and softwares brings, and all its possibilities, there is a dark side to it. Photography is dying because of it and it is happening in a strange way because the interest in photography is chocking itself. May sound strange but is a fact.
Would it sound normal that a professional athlete funded his carrier with any thing but being good at his sport and possibly make some sponsor deals beside getting well paid for what he is good at. I guess it would. And it would sound absolutely ridiculous that he would have to fund his carrier of professional athleticism by teaching, writing books and blogs and creating apps and running workshops just to be able to do his sport that is some thing amateurs do. This would mean he could not concentrate on being a top athlete and top athletes do need to devote all their time to it to succeed.
This on the other hand is the case of modern day photographer. Those that want to make it and stand out in the world of photography can not rely any more on just being good at what they do. Its a sad fact but a true one. Just take a look at those that are most in the media now and those photographers names that come first to your mind. Most all of them are in the business of selling them self as a product not their work. Those that are trying to sell them selfs and their work are struggling and those that would rather not sell them self but just their work are disappearing from the surface. Photography as we knew it is dying.
With digital photography and the internet, the market was overflowed by mediocrity, it is once again sad but true. Photography has turned to being more the business of how cheap buyers can get an image rather than how good of an image they can get. How well it serves their purpose or how good of a service a photographer can give. Photography as a commercial trade has always been partly good craftsmanship and fantastic solution making combined with good service. This has been the goal of any good professional. Photography as art form has never really taken of, not to the degree one would have expected. That on the other hand might be changing. It remains to be seen. First this digital craziness has to settle.
The digital craze has namely set back the art of photography and turned the quality factor upside down. Its first now in the last few years that digital is getting close and in some cases surpassing traditional film photography when it comes to the quality of the output. Still you see totally devastating quality being served at exhibitions today, with out any one speaking out about how much of a rubbish there is being served. Just last year here in Bergen where I live now, I did see on a days stroll some old style handwork from a photographer still using film. Beautiful traditional portraits in black and white printed on silver gelatin paper and even though the images were not in the super interesting portrait class you could not but admire the beauty of them.
Only few blocks away one of the biggest camera shops in town had an exhibition In their store window and what a shit. Digital prints to the degree of being total rubbish where being presented as fine art. The kind I threw in the garbage more than 10 years ago when testing digital mediums, are now being presented as good enough, and its the good enough that is killing photography even though far up north in Norway in the small town of Mo i Rana I did see some handwork in digital printing that matched some quality. Its there, but its rare.
Photography is dying because professionalism is dying. Customers are used to getting and seeing cheap photography and with the digital revolution and the shorter learning curve to become good enough, the market is flooded with semi-pros and amateurs that are happy just to get their name below the image when it is printed. Customers are more than happy to get images for nothing or next to nothing and take the advantages of the situation in a marketing world of capitalism where the bottom line controls every thing. Quality is not the main factor. Quantity and cheap are. And there is no lack of it.
Just like a top athlete needs to practice hard to stay on top of his sport and give all of him self to it, a professional photographer needs to do the same. Photography is in many ways no different from sports. If you do not keep practicing you become stale and stuck in your ideas and work. Are you in the business of selling professional photography service it is even more vital that you have the possibility of emerging your self fully in being a photographer so you can both serve well and secure quality. If you cant and have to divide your time juggling many balls just to survive you will have to compromise. And that is exactly what is happening. This is why photography as you know it is dead.
There are those that will say that if you can not survive by just doing photography you are not good enough and you will just have to do better. To those I say bullshit. Those that get the furthest in the business of photography are for the most part mediocre photographers but they are good business men, and they have many balls inn the air at the same time. Its not enough to day to be good. I have seen many cases of that and still see very good photographers struggling. Even those you might think where doing it great because they are taking pictures of all the big hollywood stars and mucicians, they are struggling.
Don't get me wrong there are tremendously fine photographers out there. Good professionals that still manage to survive by being just that. Good professionals at what they do. There are some clients existing that understand the value of good photograph and what a professional photograph can do to sell a product. But those are mostly of the older generation and are dying along with photography. It seems that fewer of the younger generation understand the value and certainly not for some money. They can just jump online and get what they need for free.
For photographers in other fields than the commercial fields things are slowly dying. Children photography is taken by people them selfs and their phone. Wedding photography has been handed over to the nephew and his new camera and for documentary and journalism photography the world is not promising as more and more magazine disappear from the shelfs of shops and it becomse harder to fund projects.
The internet has not helped here. ON the contrary. It is chokingly full of images. And you can see more photography than ever before, but you are flooded with average to bad photography most of the time and those that we look at as the masters of photography are having hard time financing new projects and getting paid for publicizing them. If you do not know where to look for them you have hard time seeing their latest work and I am surprised about how badly informed the younger generation of photo enthusiasts in fact is. The internet has realy turned on the area of recycling, the only problem is that its the same shit being recycled and republished in every online media and for nothing. This is increasing the ignorance in the medium to the degree where old things pop up with misunderstood name and are presented as some totally new technology. Just think bokhe and what that means to most people that use that word.
Photographer can not live on getting his images published all over for nothing or not getting published at all. Photographers can not compete with cheap or free images if quality does not matter. Photographers can not give professional service if they have to do all kinds of other things to survive, and what is really the point of such a thing any ways. AN online sales of photography through galleries is in fact a laughing stock. Photographers and photo enthusiasts are becoming a million dollor industry, only photographers do not see any of the money. Those that promise them super sales and then sell their images for nickel and dime do on the other hand stand to gain much. Just look at all the online sales, registration and competitions sites that have popped up in the resent years.
In a recent interview my idol and one of the photographers that got me interested in the field of photography, Elliot Erwitt, said when asked for advice to young photographers. Get a job have photography as a hobby. Its a sad sentence from this master but so true. If you you are passionate about photography look at it as a hobby, forget about it as a profession, except if you are willing to compromise and kill quality. If you want to be an artist. Forget photography and do some thing else or have it as a hobby. It will kill you trying to survive on it.
The evolution of digital world, internet and international corporatism will kill photography in the end. Those that think there will always be the need for photography are wrong. The need for photography has diminished already at the same time as the access to photography has increased tremendously. The sad fact is that no one needs photography. People may want it but they can very well be with out it and certainly no one needs professionalism if you think they do, have a look at your pass photo. The security photo of your self. Most of them are far from being professional and done by a desk clerk at some office with some phone type of camera. Nobody needs photography. This is why photography is dying.
In a resent series of posts I tried to sell my images to save my soul from being burnt. It was a bit steep challenge but I like challenges. This time the challenge was maybe a bit to daring. Hanging from a cliff in some wilderness shouting into the darkness in hope that some one or a group of some one interested enough in photography would come and rescue me was a shot in the dark. But worth trying. It was meant to clear the path for the future of my work and publications.
In short it did not. In stead the rock walls surrounding the passage through to the path tumbled down and its the end of the road for me. I can not afford to be a photographer any longer. Actually a I can not afford being at all. And I certainly cant make a living from only selling fine art photography as I wanted. I have used up 30 years of my life and took the chance in 2006 of selling every thing I owned to be able to live my dream of doing fine art photography. I had fantastic time and produced my best work so far but it left me bankrupt and I have now come to the end of the line.
I don't know. Maybe I am just not good enough. Maybe my images are not interesting enough. I don't know, even though I know that the response I get from people that see my images says otherwise. The problem is though you don't live on likes and comments, but people expect you to do. Especially if you are a photographer that looks up on your self as an artist.
So for me this is the end of photography world as I know it I will now take the advice of Elliot Erwitt and turn to be a amateur doing photography for my self. - thank you for good times.
p.s If you know of some one that wants to give a job to a 50 year old photographer then give them my number. Im looking for a job. Any thing goes, As long as I get paid for it with some thing else than my name under a picture.