Hey Guys, Andy here. When visiting my parents recently, my father inquired into the state of the photography industry and what the future holds. While making predictions in a world where a former, and potential future, US President is a convicted felon is like swimming in the UK’s waters (infested and murky), I could not escape the notions of fast photography and even faster photography.

Just as I do not claim to reinvent the wheel in photography, I do not claim to have coined the term fast photography which, presumably, has origins in the term fast fashion. While the meaning of fast fashion is straightforward, it does exactly what it says on the tin, it is worth pausing to reflect on its popularity and impact.

According to statistics from a March 2023 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), global garments production today has doubled since 2000, with consumers buying an estimated 60% more clothes today, but only wearing them for half as long. This has led to a decline in national textile industries with an erosion of garment quality and value as fast fashion positions the items as disposable.

Patrick Grant, the Great British Sewing Bee presenter and clothing entrepreneur, commented;

“Does that make our lives any ­better? Does it bollocks. Clothes haven’t got cheaper, they’ve just got worse. In the process, we’ve binned five and a half million jobs making these things well, and it’s absolutely killed communities.”

If people are paying £2.50 for a piece of clothing… (fashion) almost doesn’t stand a chance because of the wave of crap that’s just sort of drowned it.”

I find it hard not to see parallels with photography having previously lamented the death of photojournalism and the ‘slangification’ of photography. Photography statistics for 2024 make for grim reading;

  • Production of digital still cameras has decreased from 121 million units in 2010, to 35 million units in 2015, to 8 million units in 2022
  • Over 9 million 35mm film cameras were produced in 1977; none are produced today
  • 1.12 trillion photos were taken in 2020, 1.39 trillion photos in 2021, 1.50 trillion in 2022 and it’s estimated that there will be 1.72 trillion photos taken in 2023 
  • Between 4.1 billion and 4.7 billion photos are taken every day, or 47,564 per second
  • Approximately 4.5 trillion photos are stored on Google Photos, with 28 billion uploaded each week, but most are never viewed.
  • In 2023, only 5.6% of photos are taken with digital stills cameras, with the rest taken by smartphones. This compares with 50% of photos taken with digital cameras in 2017.

With the demand for digital cameras is a fraction of what it once was, simple economics would suggest that this, in turn, would mean an increase in the unit cost of a digital camera as previous economies of scale can no longer be achieved; conversely a camera remains ‘free’ with a phone. However what value does a photograph have when the majority of the 28 billion images uploaded weekly to Google Photos remaining neglected?

Clearly both the means of taking and the consumption of photography has shifted seismically. I was recently accused of not keeping up with the times with my accuser denying to listen to any rationale as to how the industry has changed. Their argument was not without merit; despite time investment I do not think I have ever earned work off social media. However what fell on deaf ears was this; ecosystems that used to promote and sustain professional creativity (photographers, hair and make up artists, stylists, videographers) have given way to social media and influencers. Wherever I look on social media, the majority of the (photographic) content I come across is poor; maybe I’m not following the ‘right’ accounts. During my formative years I learned to appreciate photography by looking at editorial images and photojournalism; it is this style unconsciously emulated with my own work. I suggest today the majority of photography that is consumed is, most likely, to be a ‘snap’. Ie something taken quickly on a phone due to convenience with little thought for composition, lighting and exposure. My rationale follows that these ‘snaps’ will become the new visual baseline and both what people aim to achieve and also what they’re willing to accept in regards to standards. Taking the Patrick’s line of thought, in such an environment, creative and quality photography “doesn’t stand a chance”. 

However, and in keeping with the times, this train of thought itself is moot as it is already being overtaken by AI. Why even take a photo when a collection of word prompts will suffice? If cameraphones created fast photography, AI is creating even faster photography; I use the term photography loosely as I deem AI to create digital content and not photography per se. Will there be a tipping point where, instead of a ‘snap’, fake and sanitised AI content become the new baseline and norm? How close are we to this point or, even, have we slept walked past it?

Spare a thought for Matchesfashion and the knock on effect the platform’s collapse had across the supply chain and the independent brands it once championed. Founded in 1987 the retailer was valued at $1billion in 2017 before entering administration this month. Its demise was a major factor, in turn, to the shuttering of the mid- sized independent brands of Mara Hoffman, Calvin Luo and The Vampire’s Wife which sat squarely between the super labels of LVMH and Kering and fast fashion. 

It would appear that the middle ground is rapidly being hollowed out leaving a sea of floundering creatives with markets increasingly disappearing to the two price extremes. So much for choice if faced with these binary options in an adjust or die situation. The refrain of adjust or pivot has been persistently clamoured for over a decade now; it’s been exhausting. Pivot to online. Pivot to video. Pivot to Instagram. Pivot to TikTok. The only people who’ve benefited from these pivots are the platforms who initiated the pivots in the first place.

History would suggest we need to be careful when the middle ground ceases to exist.