Did the Web Kill the Art of Photography?

Admittedly, we were at one time (or still are?) terrible photographers.  Yes, I understand that “terrible” is a relative term, but every photographer went through that awkward period of learning how to use cameras, how to read and see the light, how to use angles to our advantage and create great photos (and yes, “great” is relative too).  But, terrible learning stage aside, I’m noticing more and more crappy work out there, which brings me to this: Did the Web Kill the Art of Photography?

Is it just me or did Web 2.0 give birth to a ghastly crappy-photography-being-touted-as-art phenomenon?

We live in a visual society and with the Internet disseminating hordes of media in text, photos, and videos, I sometimes wonder if our capacity for deep thought and subsequently brilliant photos has been stunted.  Because after all, especially today, media is super reflexive, meaning that when we see/hear/feel something, we want to spit it back out and try to pawn it off as our own.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be original, these days, and we may just be trying to re-invent the same mediocre photo over and over again.

In a couple of recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) articles called “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” and “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?“, they explored the impact that the web has on modern society.  I’d like to explore how the web is affecting photography.

In the “Smarter?” article, they compared the information boom to 16th-century rise of movable type and how “Gutenberg’s press spread through Europe, the Bible was translated into local languages, enabling direct encounters with the text; this was accompanied by a flood of contemporary literature, most of it mediocre.”  So what about today’s photography?  We have access to a lot more photos today than ever before, and the means to create photos is so widely accessible.  Does that mean that many of us are creating mediocre work?    The “Smarter?” article continues to say, “The issue is whether there are any ideas so good today that they will survive into the future.”  So will today’s photos go down in history as being great?

While many or most of today’s photos will not be considered great, I think the Internet has pushed photography a step further.  We’ve been granted global access to a wealth of really amazing and really crappy photos; it’s up to us to be able to make an educated comparison and pick out what we feel is best and what will have the most impact.

Moreover, it is widely accepted that competition spurs innovation. So the competition created by the “new” photos on the web has given birth to a generation of would-be photographers who may or may not be great competition.  (Check out this article for more on competition … Here)

“Increased freedom to create means increased freedom to create throwaway material, as well as freedom to indulge in the experimentation that eventually makes the good new stuff possible.”…See…some good stuff can come out of it, says the “Smarter?” article.  But “throwaway material” is another way of saying crappy photos will also be a result.

Conversely, in the “Dumber?” article, “…a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.”

I definitely agree with that statement.  In a photography sense, we click from “cool” photo to “cool” photo, seldom stopping to contemplate one, much like any visual art.  And people who juggle many tasks are less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.

We’re becoming, in a word, shallower.  Everyone is consumed with the latest amazing, knarly, photoshop action or Lightroom/Aperture preset that you can apply to all of your photos at once without having to know a thing about exposure, light, shutter speed, aperture, or composition.

My opinion?  Use the web as a research tool, but try to unplug and strive to create truly original and great photos. Do not let all of this visual barrage of mediocre images kill your own creative vision.

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