4. Rethinking photographers

Perhaps the main thing that occurred to me as I watched the presentation on photographers in film was of how few films I have seen about photographers. I have not seen any of the films referenced in the presentation, and the only film I recall seeing about a photographer was Triage from 2009. I would agree that photographers seem to be presented in mass media either as parasites (on the fashion/paparazzi end of the scale) or fearless campaigners for justice (on the conflict photographer end). On reflection, though I admire the great conflict photographers immeasurably, it has never really had an effect on my own practice as I have never considered myself anywhere near brave enough to pursue such a calling. As for the other end of the scale – celebrity culture and fashion are two (interlinked) things that I (wilfully? Proudly?) do not understand – whenever I am forced to contemplate such things, I get depressed.

I would imagine that directors and writers incorporate these two ends of the photographic spectrum (and little in between, it would seem) as it legitimises their own artistic endeavours – on the one hand, there is no way that Dan Gilroy, the writer and director of Nightcrawler, who himself produces images of disaster for our titillation, can be as bad as his creation Lou Bloom – the film itself is an indictment of such practices. At the other end, the nobility of the war photographer bringing human suffering to light and opening the hearts of the world to the plight of the downtrodden…surely that is exactly what the directors of such films feel they are trying to do.

As technology has advanced, photography has gotten easier. I think this goes without saying. Though I just said it nevertheless. Especially with the advent of digital imaging. On the one hand, this has indubitably led to a general perception that anyone can be a photographer – a perception fed by camera and phone adverts, from the Yashica advert mentioned in the presentation through to contemporary adverts for iPhones and so on. In fact the increase in the quality and ease of use of phone cameras has all but wiped out the compact camera market and led, as pointed out, to the massive rise in UGC in news and other media. And I do think that the nostalgia apparent in the rise of Lomography and subsequent digital imitators and the further subsequent rise in film photography is fed by the desire to be seen to be doing something difficult as well as different (I have a whole raft of ideas about the need of post-hipster culture to be seen as being original whilst all looking, dressing and acting the same, but this is probably not the place for it…). It is a path I have trodden in my own practice. I started out in the early 1980s both taking and developing 35mm photographs. I progressed to digital cameras, then was seduced by Lomography. Having gotten used to the quick fix of digital photography, I found analogue Lomography took too long (not to mention that the majority of the images I made didn’t look edge and cool – they were just crap) so I advanced to Hipstamatic. At that stage, photography was definitely a by-product of my love of travel (now that has reversed) and I only carried a Fuji compact and my trusty iPhone as I trudged across the globe. I recently found a forgotten Amazon cloud account on which I had stored 10,000 images I made between 2010 and 2013. My initial excitement was tempered somewhat when I discovered that the majority of them were taken with the exact same Hipstamatic filter. The only halfway decent images I had were of Russia as my phone was stolen early on in the trip…

As I am far from being a professional photographer, the rise in UGC has benefitted me, giving me a platform to aspire to and a reason to improve. Further more, as a consumer of news media, I think the fact that we have virtually immediate and widespread visual access to pretty much anything that happens anywhere in the world is a wonderful thing, not least because it is subverting the tradition of social control via what information is allowed to reach the public. Although I can imagine that there are professional photographer who can do a better job seeing their livelihoods stripped, I nevertheless think that this is an exciting time to be alive!

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