Hey guys, Andy here. For all the advances in photography over the last few decades, I find it increasingly hard to see the value. I used to hope the near universal access to a camera, being bundled together with a mobile phone, would demonstrate to non photographers how difficult and skilful photography is. However what has happened, in combination with the internet, is the reverse; poor and mediocre photography floods platforms who have normalised infringement and the result is the devaluation of photography.
Possession of a tool does does not necessarily positive correlate with talent. Owning a kitchen does not make one a cook or chef, just as access to a keyboard does not mean the author can string a coherent, written sentence together. So it is no surprise most non photographers, hobbyists and even new entrants to the photography industry struggle to take a good photograph. Cost of entry is virtually zero as while a camera is a key feature of a phone the perception is that you purchase a phone not a camera and as such the camera is free. Estimates for the global number of photographs taken in 2021 is 1.12 trillion (down from 1.4 trillion 2020 due to COVID). There is a line of thought that this is positive and who am I to judge moments of pride or love captured which are close to someone’s heart? However I offer that this plethora of images has led to the importance of spontaneity and being in the right place at the right time over image quality. Why bother with craft when gigabytes of storage and shooting on burst means elements such as composition and timing can be achieved more through luck than judgement. And why should time be spent on editing an image when a filter can be instantly applied? And on a superficial level, who cares as long as the hobbyists have fun? Yet considering photography purely in regards to capturing an image ignores the consequential effects which given today’s reliance on the internet and digital information, including privacy, must be factored. Whilst, I suspect, the majority of images languish on the devices on which they’re taken a large number do not. They make their way onto the internet as they are shared with friends, family and arguably the whole world. And here is the second downfall of digital photography; just as pressing ‘click’ on a camera phone requires no talent, uploading an image to the internet requires no knowledge or understanding of metadata and copyright.
A defence of ignorance and a lack of digital education is naive to the fact that data is increasingly being exploited by bad actors. Given their monopolistic positions on the internet, it is impossible to avoid social media platforms which are the go to places for most people for publishing their photographs. Marketed as locations with which to engage with others, share updates and message friends, social media relies on content for audience engagement, to lock you into the platform for as long as possible (infinite scroll anyone?) and photography is a key part to entice this. An image’s metadata provides platforms with information with which they can better target advertising from which they financially gain and platforms not only mine an image for all this data but then strip the image of the original data and insert their own code to track future use. Indeed photography is such an important part of data collection that platforms such as Facebook (FB), who own the photography platform Instagram (IG) and Twitter claims usage rights in their T&Cs over uploaded images and these T&Cs have now become the default for other platforms and services. Platforms not only seize image rights but have created and perpetuate a system which normalises poor and illegal behaviour to encourage account holders to share images over which they have no rights. On Twitter there are multiple ways to report an image by clicking on it but this does not include image infringement which requires a longer and more indirect route. The current trend on IG is to label images that do not belong to the account holder with ‘DM for credit’. This acknowledges the image belongs to someone else and suggests this note or credit is acceptable in lieu of a licence. It is not. It is simple minded to believe IG is merely a photo platform and taking it at face value is the misdirection FB wants you to believe. In 2020, FB’s revenue was approximately $86 billion, and bear in mind this is a company that neither creates nor commissions work; it sells targeted advertising.
The situation is akin to a sat nav company giving you a vehicle, for free, upon purchase of their product without any scrutiny as too proficiency with the road system built by social media and signed to create confusion. And why would they do this? Because, in this example, they get paid and profit from all the road traffic accidents caused.
I find it hard to come to a different conclusion, when looking at the consequences of camera access combined with digital ignorance and social media infringement normalisation for financial gain, other than the devaluation of photography. My ability to survive through my own craft by has been eroded by the mass capture and consumption of photography by amateurs and exploited by bad actors. Why take an image of your own if you can use someone else’s? And why spend on production and quality if a camera phone image is acceptable? While I try not to be elitist, it is difficult to accept a situation where my time, experience and skill has been rendered near meaningless.
It is worth noting that the situation explained above is simply the current status quo. In the race for instant celebrity status and financial gain many lose their moral compass and photography can, in addition to being exploited, easily be weaponised. If you think this is an exaggeration you need look no further than Magnum Photography and their exploitation of and conspiracy of silence in regards to child sexualisation. Rather than set the standards in the industry the cooperative is more motivated to protect itself and its coffers. Similar to photography based platforms copying FB and IG, this example then becomes the standard for others lower in the food chain.
Of course this is merely a point of view, and a negative one at that, but these points remain extant. The combination of phone companies and social media have created the situation where it is virtually free to take, publish and copy a photograph and with little to no penalties for copyright infringement and exploited it for their own gain. Who would be a photographer today?