Sunday, July 07, 2013

Digital disruption and photography

This post is perhaps a few years late. Or a few years early. Depending on how you see it.


A few years ago, I was speaking to a photographer friend of mine who, then, was upset that digital technology had made photography very difficult for professionals like him. Unlike many cribbers, he realized very early, the need to differentiate and get better at his skill and took advantage of the medium itself. Today, he is not threatened by amateurs, indeed, he is far ahead of where he was a few years ago. When there is a crowd at the bottom, the reach to the top gets sharper and the best make it.

Obviously, the number of photographers is not going to go down anytime soon – what with the prevalence of digital technology and digital SLRs. A few weeks back we were in a bird sanctuary near Bangalore and the number of SLR toting enthusiasts had to been to be believed. Every one and his uncle who has a digital camera is an aspiring wildlife photographer. Surely, many of them will come up with great pictures – and some will touch professional quality – but true talent will continue to create newer paradigms. While the cribber will whine that the number of amateurs has ruined his field of work and made it tough for her to make money.

If you thought that it was only the wildlife photographer  who was affected, take a look at any wedding. The number of 5 year olds taking a picture with a digital point and shoot or their parents mobile phone is more than the number of adults taking pictures. Has that killed the wedding and event photography market? Hardly. I saw a studio that called itself ‘Artography’in a not so avant garde area recently. And some photographers are now into what they call as designer event photography. And of course, there is a designer touch in the albums as well – which has taken the design element to a totally new level. And the charges are appropriately higher.

In an age where everyone has a camera on their phones and instant connectivity via twitter and facebook, the news photographer is also threatened. I have cellphone, will click and spread news. The recent Uttarakhand floods has seen numerous videos and photos uploaded by people at the event. At recent terror attacks, pictures have made it to the internet within minutes. Indeed, in the recent Boston Terror attack, the investigating agencies put out a site requesting photographers to send pics and used software to stitch together an entire map using photographs shot at the site. However, on the web, the photo news sites have gotten better as well – and the best photo journalists have simply got better by shooting some insanely great pictures. (And by the way, everybody on my facebook timeline has a picture of themselves with a celebrity of some sort or other – from Kareena Kapoor to Sachin Tendulkar)

Surely the average quality of pictures have gone down. But the best are going strong aren’t they? And surely all those who boast of Sachin Tendulkar on their timelines are not great friends with the man?

With the bloggers and tweeters, clearly, the quality of writing has gone down. But then this is expected.  But the best have got better – even in writing, while the pretenders have gone to town shouting and screaming about the quality of debate on twitter while actively engaging trolls on one side of the debate (their preferred side).

So, why do our newsmakers crib about the quality of debate on twitter and the internet? Is it the quality that bothers them?

Or is it 'professional arrogance' arising from the fact that the job which they are paid to do, is being done for free by people on the internet?

Or is it because the internet offers people to, finally, offer their opinions on their jaded columns and watch their biased talking circuses which they pass off as neutral debates? 

Or is it because the internet has broken the one way street to their studios and offers people to challenge their reporting and their so called authority to dictate the terms of the debate? 

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