Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Future's so Bright....

Among photo students there seems to be a certain pessimism that seems fairly pervasive.  Virtually every internship I approved  this semester was for a J-O-B rather than working for an inspiring artist or an NGO.  Photography has never been a secure profession, and I think anyone who is considering a career in a freelance profession has every right to be a little scared given the current economic climate.

One of the best parts about being older is having a certain perspective on things.  I've survived at least three economic downturns over my career.  Rough times actually improve the breed a bit by filtering out some competitors who are more interested in the "lifestyle", instead of the work.   It also seems to me that even looking at the seemingly dismal future there are lot's of reasons to be cheerful....

Reason 1. Technology is a double edged sword.  It has made photography very easy so a lot of the grunt work we used to do has disappeared.  Art Directors that I used to shoot simple product shots for can now shoot a simple still life with a point and shoot, then clean it up with Photoshop.  Sure, I miss the income from that kind of work, but not the work itself.

On the other hand technology also allows us to access a worldwide market. I recently shot a book cover for a Brazilian publisher who found me by my website. I got the assignment on a Wednesday, shot and delivered it on Thursday, and had the payment delivered by wire transfer by Friday.

Now, the bad news is that the job paid about the same amount of money I was charging in 1990, so rates are down when you consider the cost of living.  I also had to (lightly) retouch the images, something I never had to do in the past.  On the other hand I shot digitally so I could carry all the equipment myself (no 150 pounds of lighting, no medium format camera, or polaroid, etc), nor did I have to make three trips back and forth to the lab to check clip tests.  Best of all, I didn't have to outlay $ 1000 in expenses and then wait 60 days to get paid (plus 30 days for the check to clear) . If I look at the whole process as an hourly wage I'm probably keeping pace with inflation.

Overall, I'd rate this a tie.

Reason 2. Technology (again).  I've been shooting professionally for almost 25 years.  It's hard to do the same thing for that long and not get bored,  Luckily I can say in all sincerity that I have never been bored.  The great gift of this profession is that it is always evolving so it forces us to evolve with it.

Here's a test for recent job I did for a dance wear manufacturer.  Once it's cleaned up it will become a video display on vending machines that sell dance wear at dance studios.  It was shot on a 1D MarkIII so any single frame can also become a poster or a print ad.

I know there are plenty of film purists out there who are lamenting the death of film, but as someone who has been shooting film for a long time I am personally pretty excited by the way digital is challenging my notions of what photography is, or can be.

Win, win

Reason 3. Technology (again).  I shot that job last spring using a (then) state of the art camera.
Here's where it's going:

The image is from the Red camera website, basically this is a camera that should (theoretically) be a high res digital still camera (somewhere between 12 and 22 MP), and a 3K (3 times the resolution of HD) video camera for under $ 4000.  It is completely modular so you can buy or rent components to bring it all the way up to a digital camera capable of producing a film that can be theatrically released for under $ 28,000.  As the chips get better you'll simply swap out chips instead of buying a new camera.

But wait, there's more!  As a photographer who spent most of my pro career shooting color transparency I didn't have much trouble adapting to the limited dynamic range (5 -6 stops) of current digital capture technology.  The Red camera promises 12 stops of dynamic range, more than color negative film, all in lossless RAW!

Another win.

Reason 4. Technology (sense a trend yet?).  Why did we become photographers?  To get famous?  I doubt it. To get rich? Not in my case.

I think most of us became photographers because we just love participating in the world.  The camera and making photographs are a way of engaging our interests.  When I read Barthes and Sontag I think they miss the point.  I don't make pictures to remember, or to convince,  I make pictures because the process engages me in the subject on a new level,  I make photographs because it is a transcendent experience.  Photography's reward is that I get to lose "me" in the "it" before the lens.

What does that have to do with technology?  New technologies allow us to experiment and work on ideas that would have been prohibitive in the past.

My sister in law just made a film "The Greatest Silence", about the systematic rape of women in the Congo.  She shot it with a $ 1500 Sony handy cam.  She's made hundreds of documentaries and TV shows but she couldn't get anyone to fund this project so she shot it on the cheap and relied on the story to sell the project.  Eventually HBO bought it and it was accepted into the Sundance festival where it won best documentary.    You can't keep a good idea down.


I might have to buy shades.

1 comment:

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