Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Future of Photography (Again)

I've written a bunch of stuff, speculating about where we're going. Here, for instance, and also here. They're kind of optimistic essays, about where we might be able to go.

Let me now look in my other crystal ball. The black one. The one filled with despair.

Ultimately I think a strong argument can be made that any really cool new things in photography are going to be software driven. Photography is digital, it's all software now. Anything really cool and innovative therefore depends on someone writing some software. Software that's not trivial and stupid.

I happen to work in a segment of that industry which gives me good visibility, and I can tell you that virtually all software being written today is being written by incompetents who go to heroic efforts to accomplish trivialities. The apps on your phone get slower, bigger, and buggier, don't they? But in return you get all these cool new... No wait. The new version basically does the same thing as the old one. Maybe less. But boy it sure looks different! And my phone is now hot enough to cook on!

Ain't looking good for any radical innovation that solves some hard problems and pushes photography to somewhere new and amazing.

So what could happen?

Consider the art of writing. For 1000 years we had the art of the illuminated manuscript. These were awesome. Writing was special, it was hard. We only wrote things out that were important. Because they were important, we took the time to make the manuscript beautiful. Then it kind of got out of hand and the illuminations started to get done for the sake of the illuminations. There ensued a sort of decadent period in which there was a moderately brisk market for these things, but they were still incredibly beautiful, special.

Then the sea change. The nobility learned to read and to write. Then the merchants did too. And then there came the printing press, and ever more literacy. More or less.

Now writing, and the printed word, is everywhere. It is absolutely universal. We live in a constant flow of words. You're wallowing in some right now.

And where is the illuminated manuscript?

Does this sound familiar? I don't claim that this is anything like a perfect analogy, just a kind of example of the way things can change when they transition from hard-and-relatively-rare to easy-and-common.

Now that words on paper is a universal thing, and anyone can put words on to paper, they're not special any more.

More to the point, we value words for their content, for what they say, but not for how they look. It's possible that ubiquitous photography will cause us to value photographs in some wildly different way than we do now. Possibly, for their content, but not the way they look.


  1. The majority can write. Only a minority write well.

  2. That's a cracking analogy my friend although I would argue that the written word can still fulfill that element, it can still be a thing of wondrous beauty.

    You just have to search for those nuggets and gems.