I was talking with my brother, Houston, this evening about cameras and photography in general. Houston has been an avid photographer for many, many years, and knows tons more on the subject than I do, however most of his work has been with film. He said he was hesitating entering the digital realm for one reason – everything has already been photographed.
Think about it. With the advent of digital, the number of photographs available to the general public has increased exponentially as people are no longer concerned with film costs. Granted, most of these are just snapshots that wouldn’t rise to the level of “art.” However, for good or bad, there has never been a greater documentation of day-to-day life in photos. All one has to do is search Flickr for a keyword such as “blue wall” to see what I mean.
Perhaps this was best expressed by a guy named Roland on a Usenet board about ten years ago…
The other day I seen some award type photos from the WA Photographic Club. One of the winning entries was a picture called “Old Bolt”. It was, yes you guessed it, a close up of an old bolt on a piece of old timber. If this is art then what does this old bolt tell me? What emotion can an old bolt elicit in me? If it is some other form of expression or documentary then what do I really care about the grain and texture of the wood? The same goes for close ups of taps against the backdrop of (yet another) setting sun. And if I see one more photo of an “old Man” win an award from a photographic club I’ll scream in pure frustration. Are there any old men around who have not been photographed at least once by an amateur or professional photographer, oblivious to the ubiquity of such photos?
In spite of all the above, there certainly are good uses for photography other than for commercial or scientific use, such as social documentary and portraits. I will concede that there is a small percentage of photography that could be considered “art photography” at least in the sense that these photos have the potential to elicit nostalgia or the feeling of change in a changing world, somehow connected with our own sense of loss and inevitability. But even this merges with the genre of social documentary or otherwise an historical context…
…As for rusted bolts, rotting wood, gaudy sunsets, taps dripping, flaking paint, or the hundred other subjects that win photo club competitions every year, frankly I’d rather watch paint dry.
…and remember that this was in 1997, prior to the digital photography boom. Needless to say, the other photographers on the forum took issues with his conclusions.
I’m not so sure I really agree that everything has been photographed. There are events that have yet to take place, and those are unique opportunities.
One place where this might become a problem is with geotagging. Houston and I talked about those signs that say “The most photographed spot in…” fill in the blank. Now that so many people are photographing the same spot and geotagging the photos, it’s easy to document which would be the “most photographed spot.” Just look for places where all the dots show up in Google Earth.