January 07, 2006

And Another Th-Ooh! Shiny!

Thursday's post was originally intended to be a sideline to the main point I wanted to make about Tony Long's latest column. I was headed that way when I was distracted by his CES reference (which caught my eye in no small part because my brother is there right now, lucky bastard).

Anyway. What I originally wanted to remark on was this:

Smile: Digital cameras will be all over the place at CES, too. A word about digital cameras: Feh.

With their proliferation, the world is awash in digital snapshots, and the art of photography dies a little more each day. These cameras are technological marvels, to be sure. But because they do virtually everything for you and require no effort beyond pointing and shooting, pointing and shooting is all that most people do.
I bet the photosnobs said exactly the same thing when the Kodak Brownie was invented. And the Leica. And the first SLR. And the Instamatic. And the disk camera. And the first autofocus 35mm camera. So what? What, exactly, is wrong with making it easier for the average person to capture their memories? How, exactly, is that a less noble pursuit than photography as art?
In a particularly bitchy moment, Truman Capote once described Jack Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness style: "That's not writing. That's typing." Digital cameras abet the photographic equivalent of stream of consciousness.
So Long wants to compare the average vacation snapshotter to Jack Kerouac? I'll take that compliment in a heartbeat, thank you very much (incidentally, the self-obsessed Capote rarely had a good word for anyone; acknowledging someone, even by insult, was a compliment in itself).
One thing, and one thing only, determines the photographic art, and that's the photographer behind the lens. Nothing else matters. Count on it: The digital age will produce no Alfred Stieglitz, no Margaret Bourke-White, no Ansel Adams unless the shooter possesses an artist's soul and has mastered the craft.
I'll agree with his words here - the talent is in the person, not the tool (and the link in the quote above is well worth visiting). But better tools will make 'mastering the craft' easier, which directly contradicts what I think is the undercurrent of his argument: because of digital cameras, taking pictures is now easier, therefore there will be no new Steiglitz, Bourke-White, or Adams (what, no Eisenstaedt?), and that's just B.S.
By all means, use your digital camera to take those family snaps. E-mail your images and amaze your easily amazed friends. Just don't call it "photography." Because it isn't.
My humble thanks to Tony for granting us plebes permission to keep taking pictures aside, this is more snobbish crap. I certainly agree that not every photograph is art, but to attempt to exclude snapshots from the category 'photography' is exactly the kind of "things used to be better" bitchery that Long somehow makes a living at. And that pisses me off.


Posted by Chris at January 7, 2006 01:27 PM

Category: Media Stupidity

power to the people, man.

Posted by: chess h at January 8, 2006 09:11 PM

As always, there are plenty of very cool shots that you just can't get by pointing and shooting. That's why so many digital cameras also have full manual controls. Besides, the people interested in more artistic photography will continue to pursue it. I don't see how digital cameras for the masses changes that at all. I agree, Tony Long sounds like an idiot in this column.

Posted by: Patrick at January 9, 2006 12:54 PM