Thursday, September 30, 2010

Has the advent of Digital devalued Photography

A common question that pops up routinely is "has the ease and accessibility of digital photography ultimately devalued photography more generally?". A typical example (actually not typical, its a very good discussion) of the debate is this one in the Self Taught Photographers group on FLICKR.

I wont try and make a definitive answer today because I havent got the time or the tools but I would like to add to the debate with a little clarification and a slightly different perspective (though one in keeping with my general feelings on photography).

To begin, I think too many people confuse, are at least arent careful enough to distinguish between "craft" and "art".

Craft, the ability to master all elements of the process of photography to produce an image is definitely degraded and even devalued by digital. While it is true that digital hasnt completely destroyed the craft of photography (meters arent perfect and photoshopping itself requires a degree of perseverance and experimentation) I doubt many would argue that today the level of dedication to master the operation of a modern camera or editing software matched that required by manual film cameras and wet darkrooms.

Art, the ability to know what image is worth making, is however largely unaffected by the appearance of digital. Digital technology has made it easier to make a great image, but it has done little (if anything) to help the person putting it together to know what a great image is.

Personally I dont regret that situation. Personally, the craft of photography has always left me cold. I hated film and still resent having to stop and use a tripod. The mucky muck of getting the image in my head into the camera and onto the computer is something I just want to get over. So I love digital with a passion and revel in how it lets me get to the art quickly.

However, just as there are people that value the hand crafted boat, vase, chair or tapestry and I understand that for others, the loss (at least partially) of the craft of photography is a painful thing.

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