Sunday, 19 June 2016

How we view the world

I am often asked if I mind the fact that almost everyone has instant access to some kind of camera and that there are more photographs taken now, at every possible event and occasion and do I feel intimidated? The simple answer is no and I actually welcome the ease of image making today which makes photography much more democratic. 

This is not a new debate or phenomenon, it has been a long, gradual process ever since the invention of photography. First the province of the well-off upper middle class who could afford both the time and expense to devote to the new medium, then with almost every development in the process it become slightly more democratic. From the wet plate process which demanded high levels of technical skill combined with expensive chemistry and apparatus, through to the dry plate and then Kodak's 'you press the button, we do the rest' making photography available to almost all. 

My Dad's camera - a six-20 Kodak Junior
It was the relative ease of obtaining affordable cameras that prompted my own interest and made it possible for  me. My Father owned a reasonably good camera, acquired when he was an apprentice painter and decorator before WW2. Even on his low wages at that time he was able to buy a folding Kodak and it was with him all through his extensive service in the Royal Navy during the war and recorded his travels and was with him through a lot of action.  After the war it was used to record family life just like everyone does now with their iPads and phones. Not quite as portable and quick and easy maybe but it was still accessible to most and gave us a valuable record of our family life at that time. Having your photograph taken was still an event though, it did cost something to get the film processed at the chemist and prints made so they were treasured and not 'throw away'. 

A family friend, me and my Mother by Caernarvon Castle, 1950
He was even taking colour films and they had to be sent off to Kodak in Rochester New York to be processed at printed, there not being many places in the UK available to amateurs for this just after WW2. Luckily for me, my Dad treasured his photographs, possibly because of the trouble he took to get them in the first place and he kept the negatives safely. They are still in good condition as you can see from the scan above.  This careful preservation of photographs  seems to be in stark contrast to the 'quick delete' of the majority of images today. I do wonder how much social history will be lost, especially as even those that are saved are never printed but end up on transient social media sites. 

My first camera - Kodak Brownie 127
My Father's interest in photography sparked mine and he encouraged me. By then, simple cameras had become even more affordable  and were owned by even more families. There was till the expense of commercial processing and printing but my Father encored me to learn so for us it became slightly cheaper. While photography became more democratic  the resulting images were still treasured and kept safely.

Mantes-la-Jolie, France, 2014
There was also a slightly different relationship between a photographer and their subjects due to the effort and expense, although minimal by then, it took to make photographs. The making of photographs was a reaction to observing something that was special to you and wishing to keep it. 

This added to the memory and the experience rather than just recording a special moment, unlike today, when for most, seeing and experiencing an event or place is done through a cameraphone or iPad rather than just using it to record a special moment. The real event itself is not experienced, only seen through a digital interface to be relived in two dimensions later then probably discarded or consigned to a corner of a hard drive or disappear into the 'cloud'.

St. Petersburg, Russia, 2016
Of course, we photographers are obsessive gatherers of imagery and the accusation is often levelled at us that we see the world through our cameras. Not true of course for most of us as the cliche makes clear; the camera is an extension of our eyes, not a replacement for them. We have learned to absorb, appreciate, understand and revel in the many facets of our life and world and choose to record and interpret this in our way, for others.