I’m not one to start an argument. Being raised the middle child of seven kids, conflict avoidance is pretty much my middle name. There’s noting wrong with a good debate, and I’ve certainly been known to put my two cents in, but otherwise I’m content to let the other guys take the stage. What brings me to this karmic conundrum is an argument (or perhaps just a heated discussion) that has surfaced only recently in my on-line wanderings, and which I’ve put forth to my colleagues over a few cold beers. And now to you. It goes like this: these images people make on their smartphones, uncounted millions of them, flooding the cloud, taking enormous amounts of space, rarely if ever printed … should we still call this photography?
There are those who take this deadly serious, but I confess to a lack of urgency in its resolution. I mean, really. I can’t help but hear in it a not-so subtle smack of elitism. The argument seems to be made mostly by established practitioners of the photographic arts, well-informed and experienced. Photography is their livelihood, as it is for many of my friends, and I can more easily understand it when they perceive threats to that, as surely an easy access to the craft may be. But calling the process something else does little to change it. You won’t keep the wolf away from your door by calling it a dog.
Nonetheless, it’s obvious to everyone — everyone — that something has radically changed. The ubiquity of the smartphone, and the ease with which it helps to take those millions of un-printed images, does give us reason to re-appraise the medium, if not re-name it outright. But not all images are mindless, if indeed any of them truly are. Taking pictures with a smartphone (or for that matter, any digital camera set on automatic) can be just as serious, and thoughtful, and meditative, as any creative act.