A long time ago I used to do calligraphy. I was pretty good at it, and picked up some spare change by doing place cards for wedding receptions, invitations, and a couple of framed pieces. I didn’t do anything fancy – just basic Old English and script fonts. I had the correct pens, and that was half the battle.
Then came computers, desktop publishing, laser printers, and the ready availability of an almost unlimited number of fonts. Calligraphy was dead as a commercial endeavor. Only artists of the highest caliber could hope to make a go of it. I myself haven’t put pen to ink in decades.
I fear that photography is at a similar juncture. And, I’ve got a couple of pieces of evidence to back me up.
First, last weekend was Artisphere in Greenville. Laura made the trek over to the festival while I was off paddling Sparkleberry Swamp. Her comment was that there were very few booths with the type of abstractionist art that she likes. Instead it was either hyper-realistic watercolors and paintings, or photography. She commented that there were more and more photography booths at these exhibits.
Then, this past Sunday there was an article in the Greenville News about the Pickens County Museum of Art & History’s “Thirty-Third Annual Juried South Carolina Artist’s Exhibition.” The author of the News article commented on the number of photographs entered in the exhibit…
Photography is playing a big role in the 33rd annual Pickens County Juried Art Show.
“We’ve never had so much photography entered,” says Allen Coleman, executive director of the Pickens County Cultural Commission. “Out of 194 artists who entered the show, 71 were photographers.”
What accounts for the dominance of photography this year?
It’s a sign of “the digital age,” Coleman says. In fact, the show’s top prize went to a digital ink-jet photograph, “Woods Along the Tyger River,” by Taylors resident Zane Logan.
…and that last statement pretty much sums it up. Artistic photographic effects are now trivial, with Instagram filters, automated Photoshop actions, and other quick tools readily available for punching up an otherwise mediocre photograph. High-quality inject printers are available at the consumer level.
Camera technology itself has improved so much that settings within the device itself, whether an actual camera or smart phone, can compensate for lots of problems. I’ve noticed this with my own new little camera. This fake tilt-shift image was straight out of the camera, with no post-processing…
That effect previously would have required Photoshop and several minutes of tweaking, as well as knowing how to handle selective blur and color curves.
As for the quality of this glut of photographs? As with anything it’s a mix of good and mediocre. To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with the winning photographs in the Pickens show. I’m seen much, much better photographs just taken casually by some of my friends. I’ve also seen some “artists” put up booths with the intent to sell some really bad photos. I even came across one photographer that shares a studio at River Place. The photographs there had one of the stock Photoshop filters applied, then were printed on canvas. Apart from that, there was nothing to distinguish the images, and certainly nothing to make me want to pay the prices this artist was demanding.
Even with advanced technology the rules of composition apply. There will always be those photographers that really understand these advanced tools, and know how to get the best images from them. There will also be those that think that a good camera and printer equals good photography. Unfortunately, the number of those in both of these categories is increasing, and there is almost a market glut.
Who knows, though? Maybe even photography itself is no longer necessary. The image below is completely fake…
These nuts and bolts do not exist. The entire image was created by the open source program Blender, from the surface texture to the lighting effects. According to Mark Meyer at Petapixel, still-life photographers may be facing some competition from sophisticated software packages.
But, that’s the way things have always been. Advanced technology makes things easier, and replaces those that once made money in that field. In music studios synths and samplers replace oboists and string players, etc., etc.
As for me, I don’t think I’ll abandon photography like I have calligraphy. One of the main reasons I take pictures is to document events and the places I explore. I strive for quality images, but will use lesser ones if it gets my point across. What I don’t expect is to make lots of money from my photographs.