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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The effect of digi snaps

I forgot to bring my memory card to the library where I'm writing from, so no new photos today, even though some were taken. I figured I'd at least write something. I'd had this 'deep thought' a while ago, and it was kinda resurfaced a couple days ago, so I'll throw it up here.

It began with the 2008 Bike & Build donor brochure, on which many of my photos (including the cover shot) were used. Bike & Build being a non-profit, I had no issue not asking for payment for the photos, but when the thing came out, I was surprised to see that the photos weren't credited on the brochure anywhere. It didn't bum me out, but it got me thinking about how different people perceive photographs in incredibly polar ways.

On my end, having kinda-sorta gone to photo school, and having deep-seated interest in fine art, editorial, commercial photography, I view photographs with higher-than-normal interest and respect than most of the American population. I hopefully didn't sound like a pompous prick just then, I really am not alone by any means: for the millions like myself, there's a level of automatic acknowledgment of the photographer of the image, as well as respect for the photograph as a thought and observation of the 'artist'. These don't have to be museum-quality images, I've definitely considered photos I see on facebook with the same weight as ones I've seen in a gallery setting.

On the other end is the rest of the digital-age society (yeah I totally sound like a prick), each armed with a digi point-and-shoot in their pocket or purse, at the ready for the party, the vaycay, the everyday event. These little plastic machines collectively generate billions of photos- flickr says it has downloaded 5,488 photos this past minute alone- nearly all of which are floating around on the internet, glimpsed a millisecond at a time before being clicked on.

I won't get all Marxist or Susan Sontag-y, but the picture has been commoditized to the point where most pictures aren't pictures, but more devalued snaps of time, meant for a split-second of viewing before moving onto the next one and the next one. Here's how I see many photos being looked at today, all the time, online: "Here's the dog... click... this is us getting ready.... this one is at the restaurant... click... here's Julie and Abby... here's Abby with Mark... Abby and Mark again..." You get it. You've probably seen it yourself anyway.

If this is the new future of consumer photography, so be it, but it didn't use to be like this, and I like the old way better. Rolls of film cost money, and each frame a photographer took, no matter how amateur, was an investment that he or she deemed 'worth it' to capture. The pictures had more weight for this reason, and were more sacred in a way. Furthermore, there was an excitement behind not knowing what you took till you got the film/prints back in your hand, which is now lost as well.

To bring it back to the original story, there is now this 'digital media consumer/internet overload age' where media like photos are devalued to the point where people think they can freely grab them, trade them, and automatically expect them from others. Problems arise when these photo respecters/sensitizers and the digi-bulk photo people collide and misunderstand each others expectations. Especially when it comes to the rights/original copies of the photos.

On this trip alone, I've been asked countless times if someone could just borrow my memory card for a hot minute to upload the photos I took that day, or if they could send me a high-res image so they can print it out on their printer at home. The minute I hand over my memory card, or send out that hi-res file, I lose distinct ownership over the my own image. Moreover, when a photo is expected to float around, trade hands, and be altered in ways I can't control, the image itself gets degraded- because it doesn't matter who took the photo, someone just wants it.

In the case of the Bike & Build brochure, the photos were used without credit- most likely an oversight but also a telling one. I recognize this mismatch of intention between parties, but I usually won't budge on such sharing requests. No, I won't send you the file, but I will send you an 8x10 I printed myself. Remedies like this work for both parties- they get the photo they want, and I get to control the quality, quantity, and rights of the image. These types of actions keep the threshold of artistic integrity, ownership, and quality as high as possible, no matter who the photographer- Richard Avedon or Random Snapshot Woman from Pontiac, Illinois.

My favorite, most-followed mantra comes from my father, who said "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well". Why can't this principle be followed when shooting and sharing photography, for the benefit of the medium and the industry itself?


heather said...

your father's right, and you are doing it more than "well"--your photographs are really amazing! they are clearly the result of great care and thoughtfulness.
thanks for letting us have a peek at the ride and the country through your eyes. it is really appreciated.

Lynn said...

Insightful. Miss you!