Does Culture Lead or Follow Photography? Hint – Look Up Ahead…

Does Culture Lead or Follow Photography? Hint – Look Up Ahead…

I think it leads it.

Simply and right out there.

This story on F-Stoppers has a lot of comments on it, most of them missing the point by a swing and a miss (sorry…).

[Shocking] Getty licenses Nick Laham Photographs Of NY Yankees Taken With iPhone

The story is about Getty licensing the images, and how this may seem odd given that the camera used was an iPhone.

“Shockingly” it didn’t surprise me.

For a lot of different reasons, but mostly it is because the culture leads photography. Photographers and their ‘pixel-peeping’ counterparts will have you believe that they set the direction of the art we call photography, but in reality it is the culture that leads the photographers.

Sometimes kicking and screaming like back in the day when Kodak came out with the first ‘Brownie” and like this article when some photographer breaks with ‘tradition’ of multi-thousand dollar pixel-pumpers to make images that someone would want to use.

Why is that surprising?

Creative LIVE, April 5, 6, 7, 2012

The culture has been enamored with iPhone photographs for nearly 5 years now. Seeing iPhone images is something they are used to.

Instagram, Best Camera, Hipstamatic and a couple of dozen others with similar approaches have gathered millions and millions of users.

Users who like to see images like that.

"Shocking: Getty licenses Nick Laham Photographs Of NY Yankees Taken With iPhone" -

Show of hands… how many of you signed up for one of those apps or sites so you could be able to make pictures that DO NOT look like you are using those tools?

Just that one guy, eh… sorry dude.

Back in the day the ‘perfeshunuls’ moaned and bitched about the Brownie camera. “Now anyone can take a photograph,” they were heard to whine and moan. Big cameras, with highly technical learning was needed to make a negative and a print. Now Kodak comes around and gives the power of making an image to any housewife or farmer.

Oh… the humanity…

That spelled the end of professional photography, indeed the whole art of photography was now swept into the dust bins of failed art thingies destined to be forgotten in a sea of crappy hausfrau baby pictures and photographs of cats.

(Some things remain, I guess.)

And what happened to the whiny pro’s? They got smaller cameras and they made better pictures and the art of photography was not wiped clean from the face of the earth.

Follow along the history of photography and you will find this same phenomena…

Roll Film was gonna kill photography.

35MM was gonna kill photography.

Light meters in cameras would kill photography.

Zooms will kill photography.

Autofocus will kill photography.

Digital will kill photography.

Look around. Do you think digital killed photography?

I’m saying prolly not since everyone I know has a camera, and is happily making images.

Well, not all are ‘happy’ about it, but – well – they are doing it nonetheless.

Now enter the iPhone/Android camera. I just read where there is going to be a 40MP camera in some soon-to-be-released camera phone.


(I still wonder why Canon and Nikon and them other guys don’t put a damn phone in their cameras…wifi too! Hell, maybe a little browser on the back. A small¬†Cappuccino¬†device… look, I’m just sayin’…)

But it is not the gear that is leading this – it is the culture. People are using Instagram, and Hipstamatic and making photographs that are becoming a ‘look’ of parts of our culture. Why would advertising, PR, marketing and publishers turn their back on the public?

They wouldn’t. The public leads the advertising. The people who are using the iPhones and the Androids and the little video cameras ARE the cutting edge of our culture, at least the public, popular culture.

Stands to reason that the photography from those cameras, images that LOOK LIKE the images that people love, will be used to market back to them.

You may be offended by that, or terribly distraught even.

Too bad – the culture is moving faster than that. It is making changes and demands and decisions without you or I having much singular input.

My suggestion is to not be like so many of the commenters there… instead of fearing the changes, or flailing around to devalue the work (not sharp, too few pixels, and all that crap), embrace the changes. Make of them what YOU want, and do the work YOU want to do.

iPhone images, small video cameras, toy cameras, film, digital, P&S… whateverthehell you want – as long as the images move the people who view them, they are successful and valid. I know a lot of folks who have their entire self-identification tied up with the amount of pixels and high ISO they just bought will be disappointed.

Or really pissed at me. I stopped caring about that… cause it makes no difference to the real world rolling along out there.

We do not need more walls and balkanization in photography – we need a more open and exciting engagement with it.

After all – it’s supposed to be fun.

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  1. Talk about hitting the nail on the head.

    I seem to remember hearing that when color film was first introduced, photographers were up in arms that it would ruin photography forever.

    I know people who are so afraid of manipulating a photo it’s not funny, and not for editorial reasons. These are people in Photography for the art.

    And speaking of art, I also know one whose motto is “I do photography, not art.”

    I shoot with a 7 year old, 4.1MP dinosaur and a bunch of old manual focus lenses, and I do just fine, thank you. Would I like to get my hands on the latest & greatest? Of course I would!! Am I going to give up shooting if I don’t? Hell, no. Do I pull out my phone and snap off a few every so often? Better believe it. A rose by any other name . . . is still a photograph. Who cares what it was shot with.

  2. It is hardls a discussion restricted to just photography, but I think one that art in general keeps bringing up. I remember my Dad’s second wife, a talented painter, making a rude comment about digital art saying that it couldn’t be art because it was “too easy”. As if the fact that a half-decent looking image could be created by any lay person somehow meant that art could not be created using that medium by a person of talent.

    I should preface my retort to her with the fact that I never really got along with her.

    But what I told her was something to the effect that it was the same excuse a sculpter used when talking about painting as art, because chipping away at a block of marble was hard, but that any three year old or half-trained monkey could splotch pigment ont a canvas.

    Art is not the media. It is the artists. The moment you bring the media into the discussion to somehow validate the art, you have lost the argument.

    • “The moment you bring the media into the discussion to somehow validate the art, you have lost the argument.”

      So good I had to tweet it.

      Absolutely right, Mike.

  3. Dang it… you’re right!