Let's establish this right off the bat -- I'm the world's worst prognosticator. Nostradamus I'm not. All the cocky predictions I made in my youth, about anything, have all been wildly off. When I first encountered personal computers, for example, I figured they might be useful in helping me organize my baseball card collection. How could I have seen they'd replace my darkroom, and that I'd be perfectly cool with that? And I'm sure it's not just me: where are the flying cars we were promised? So when I opened my laptop the other day and read the exciting headline The Future Of Photography, well boy howdy, was I curious to find out or what?
Turns out that particular story was actually an ad for iPhone lenses (one of which I already own, it seems) so I was somewhat miffed at not being transported to a new dimension. But it got me interested in stirring the tea leaves, so I poured some more coffee and headed into the unknown: what, dear Google, is the future of photography? I was not disappointed.
Undreamed-of new products and techniques, software and hardware, were on display for me to digest, but I wasn't really interested in all that. What caught my eye were the articles about new ways of seeing, and different ways to reflect upon reality that photography may offer us. These are truly revolutionary ideas. We've gotten into the habit of allowing photographs to mean something real to us when in fact they are contrivances, the artifacts created when we use technology to make an image. As we move into the future (at light speed, by the way) the totality of photography's ever-changing syntax will be overwhelming, but I bet we'll hardly notice. Our acceptance of what is real will adapt right along with it.
James Burke, one of the world's most influential science historians, wrote in his 1978 book Connections that not only do we not know the future, we can't know the future. The progression of time is non-linear: things that happen now effect the things that will happen later, and the process is utterly random. But I take heart in this. Nothing is pre-ordained; no outcome is inevitable. That's exciting stuff, even -- especially -- for a photographer in the digital age. One of those articles suggested we'll make up new rules as we go along, but I say, Rules? We don't need no stinkin' rules. Do we?
So what the heck, here's my stab at it: with every new piece of software, every new app, every new device (my iPhone and I are staring at each other across the room) we'll take image-making across uncharted borders, and define reality anew at every step. The "camera" will become as quaint as the "telephone." Everyone will be able to create an image and then adjust it to conform to their own very individual way of seeing the world. Most will be mundane, but some will blow our socks off. That's largely how it is even right now, so that's really not that daring of a prediction, I guess. But however photography morphs, it will always be startling and unexpected, challenging, troubling, eternally engaging. Its unfamiliarity will be warmly welcoming.
Oh, and robots. Robots will do our dishes.