I've talked about where I think photography as a whole might be headed, and I've admired people like Lytro for trying to redefine the photograph. Now I'm going to talk about the future of that single object, The Photograph. Not as an Art object, but just as an object in its own right.
First, what it's not. Lots of people are getting behind the idea of Short Little Videos as a replacement. These are certainly a Thing. There's tons of apps and whatnot that, basically, take short video clips and then manage them in a fashion somewhat like a photograph. These things are not photographs. They demand time from us, we have to wait for it to start, to run, to finish. A photograph is, I maintain, essentially a static thing which can be apprehended in an instant (although one might, assuredly, spend more time with it). The photograph demands nothing from us.
Another dimension of this is the object one manipulates. Lytro suggests that photographs should be digital objects that we rotate and tinker with.
Again, these are digital objects that make demands on the viewer, they ask us to poke at them in order to apprehend what it is, what is there. That's not a photograph.
It's possible that something along these lines will ultimately supplant the photograph, but I doubt it. Still pictures are still pretty popular, and I think it's precisely because they are undemanding. We needn't read, nor wait, nor interact. They're there, we glance, there it is.
So where might this object actually go, without losing itself and becoming something else? Here's an idea.
A photograph could become a digital object that renders itself contextually. That is, depending on context, it renders itself as one thing, or another thing. With the multiple-sensor camera yielding 3D information becoming, soon, standard, editing the objects in the scene will become easier.
The photograph of my apartment renders itself without all the beer cans when my mom looks at it. The ex-girlfriend simply drops out of most of my pictures when I change my relationship status to Single. Color temperatures in all the pictures I look at change according to my mood. All my friend's pictures are cropped to place me in the center of the frame, when I look at them (and they crop differently when other people look at them). And so on.
Photographs retain that essential no-demands character, they remain a static 2 dimensional picture that can be grasped in an instant or studied in depth. And yet, they better suit my needs on a day to day, moment to moment, basis. They reflect my reality better, or anyways they better reflect the narrative I wish to publish, true or not.
It's an idea. If I was looking to do a startup, I'd think about it. Many of the problems are hard, but there's a lot of stuff that's either doable or on the cusp of doable, right now.