What is The Future of Photography?
Photography is the examination and the documentation of our world, and the photographs we make reflect human life and the Earth as it is. Photography has the ability to stop time and capture significant moments. These photographs, whether they are of a child starving to death while a vulture waits or a landscape with the most beautiful light sculpting the world’s natural beauty, have the ability to move humans for nearly 200 years.
Some images have the power to shine a light on the inhumanity which humans are capable of committing, and some images ignite a fire of change when they shed light on something unseen or unknown. The most important photographs are those who have taken a life of their own. They’re electric, they bring tears, they entrance us, and some can take us to the darkest levels of hell when we look at them over and over again.
These images, which have the power to capture a moment in time that resonates with us, have become the benchmark of great photography. This got me thinking about the current state of photography today, especially after reading Stephen Mayes’ article in Time magazine about the coming photographic revolution.
It made me ask, “What will the paradigm shift of modern photography look like?”
What is The Paradigm Shift of Modern Photography
Mayes contends photography is headed into a more contextual, dynamic, and responsive imagery that removes the constraints of the two-dimensional paradigm of which photography is in its current state. What he is saying, at least in my estimation is, that photography will no longer be a traditional image, but instead be an immersive experience that will combine elements from video, stills, and computational photography to create more meaningful and responsive photography in the future.
If he is right, and we are moving toward a paradigm shift in photography. I think there is something that won’t be excluded from the future of imaging, whether it’s an immersive multimedia presentation or a two-dimensional image, and that is creating and finding meaning through different visual mediums.
Photographers like Eddie Adams, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Don McCullin, Sebastião Salgado, and many others, are and were successful social documentary photographers who created bodies of work that cultivated and made meaningful photography. Stephen Mayes is saying that this will not necessarily change, but that we will create projects with stronger contextual meaning.
We will still be photographers, or whatever we will call ourselves in the future, who will create projects with narrative and meaning. In this photographic revolution we will still find meaning through photography, through video capture, through interactive software, through some sort of new social application that will bring the world closer to an issue or subject. What we create is up to us, and we can use new technology and tools to help us create these narratives in a more dynamic way. The paradigm shift of modern photography will be in using more ways of capturing images of the world, instead of just one singular, two-dimensional photograph.
The Photographic Future is Ours
Humans have created meaning through a multitude of ways throughout our short history on Earth. The Earth is a tiny planet in an infinite universe among infinite worlds and planets, and is a place where we are still trying to find meaning today.
We have found meaning in religion, philosophy, scientific findings, and sometimes even those lines have been blurred into new ways of understanding the world. We understand our world as it evolves and with the more information we collect and knowledge we uncover by exploring Earth and the rest of the cosmos. Our job as photographers in history was to capture these moments, these significant parts of our history whether they are unspeakable acts or heart-warming stories, to document these stories and help give them meaning.
These are still powerful stories here on Earth that need be told and captured. The world may seem to be on the brink of disaster today, and many of us have become hopeless and think that our current trajectory cannot be reversed, but we alone have the power to instigate change through photography, and the upcoming photographic paradigm shift. We are the creators of our own photographic destiny and must create our own meaning, just like Carl Sagan so aptly said about creating our own meaning decades ago:
“The significance of our lives and our fragile planet is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal,” —Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
The paradigm shift will be finding meaning through various visual mediums, or what Mayes has dubbed the coming photographic revolution. This opportunity is a chance to help evolve to a new photographic paradigm in order to create more meaningful visual imagery, and to tell stories in a new and more dynamic way.
At a Photographic Crossroads
We are now at a photographic crossroads. The more we allow modern constraints of photography to mold us into luddites of change, the more we will be left behind in the photographic future. As photographers who decide to embrace and move forward, we are the custodian’s of our own photographic future, and must progress with the medium.
We must become denizens of the paradigm shift of modern photography. We must embrace the future, we must help mold it to reflect meaning and significance in a new way, whether its with 4K video or 35mm Tri-X film.
We can still subscribe to business as usual as photographers, or we can evolve and find new meaning through our photographic practices and diversify how we capture meaningful visuals. The digital age has leveled the playing field so that anyone can make acceptable, good photographs, but not everyone will be capable of creating meaningful work and meaningful photography.
That is the challenge that faces us today as modern photographers. We need to make ourselves relevant by accepting that photography, and the world as we know it is changing, and that we as photographers have the opportunity to reflect the world so that social change and ideas can be better represented. We are a new generation of photographers with the opportunity to shape the new future of photography.
Finding meaning through photography in the future will be capturing a moment in time by adding more layers, more meaning, more technology, and more artistic meaning into our pieces in order to create a more powerful and meaningful story.