Photography is alive, perhaps more alive than ever.
The cheap availability, the sheer ease of use and accessibility of cameras and the acceptance of people in society taking photographs has made photographs ubiquitous in life.
Forget the notion that photography is just art, it is now a form of communication.
So while traditional photographers may be stuck in the debate over whether sites like Flickr et. al. contribute anything meaningful to the art of photography, the point is completely missed – most people don’t care. Photos are just a way to share their lives, they do not do it for the art, the idea doesn’t even enter their mind. It’s just a way to communicate.
Art photography will always be important, meaningful, valuable, once you realize that the notion of photography as an “art form” is a recent change in itself, as photography was initially not accepted as an art form when the first photographs showed up in the world. Artists are the exceptions, the ones inventing ideas and ways to express them, driving us forward in step changes through creative vision outside the realm of thought for most.
The great work is still great, and is still rare – but there is more good work, and even more marginal work, out there than before cameras became widespread.
The lesson of the expansion of tools from other industries (books, newspapers, music, movies) is the same – as the tools reach a larger amount of people, the ability to organize it all is even more important, and the tools and people to do the organizing even more important. Editors, curators, people with the eyes and understanding to organize and scan through the world, are and will be even more important.
Where does this leave the economics of the stock business? Shot, dead, gone. Debate what you want about the economics of microstock, or Getty’s change to $49 images, or the value of RF and RM, or whether Flickr or Zoomr can create stock agencies from user generated content, but long-term, the economics for individual photographers will continue to degrade. While the demand for photographs for traditional media is flat or growing slowly at best, the supply is drastically increased. Say what you want about the quality of the work (marginal, uninspired, even dumbing down the art form), but most buyers do not need the best, they just need what is good enough for the decreasing expectations of the public.
Communication has never been about pure quality, but rather about exchanging information efficiently, and once you accept photography as a form of communication then you completely change your expectations and use of the medium.
What does mean to professional photographers? Learn the lessons from the music business and musicians – the future is less about owning the end product, more about the process and the experience of creating.
More on this to come.