30 Jan Photography is in the seeing, not the technology
I spent a long weekend at the Santa Fe Workshops, the renowned photography school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was the guest of a very gracious Kodak. The objective of the three-day workshop was to teach a small group of us who write and talk about digital imaging to be fully immersed in the art and craft of digital photography, while along the way becoming more familiar with the Kodak P850 digital camera and EasyShare desktop software and photo sharing service.
The weekend proved to be much more than that. Workshop founder Reid Callanan and his staff are outstanding and caring teachers. A few days in their capable hands will make anyone a better photographer, most certainly. As importantly, though, the workshop got me thinking about the transition from film to digital photography.
I grew up with the requisite darkroom in the basement and studied photography in college. I even did a brief stint as a photographer for my small-town newspaper and its local tourism magazine. I knew film processing and printing. To this day I can differentiate developer, fixer and stop bath by smell. Real photographs – art photographs – were made in a darkroom, not on a desktop.
These past few days have disavowed me of that notion, and I suppose not a moment too soon.
The art is in the seeing and in the processing, no matter if the photographer is using a film or a digital camera, a darkroom or a desktop. It seems obvious as I write that, but I think the mainstream market’s focus on photo sharing and camera phones hindered my openness to that possibility. Indeed, while significant advances in camera sensors and printing technology have advanced the state of digital photography, so much emphasis has been placed on the consumer experience that it’s easy to overlook the way in which digital imaging is separating the market into distinct strata.
Certainly, the market’s attention has been focused on the vast swath of consumer services – from the original SnapFish and Ofoto days (and yes, I did deride the Kodak people for changing a well-recognized brand to the clumsy Kodak EasyShare Gallery) to DEMOfall’s FilmLoop, Flickr, and other peer sharing systems. DEMO regulars know that this category always gets attention at the conference because digital photo sharing – while improving – remains a difficult challenge.
This profitable bulge in the middle of the market overshadows the important advances at the high end that enable the creation of works that will endure – and an important change at the low end of the market. I use the term “low” advisedly. While “low” typically means less quality and less cost, the low-end photo market is more about the use of digital photography, not the price of it. Camera phones and compact cameras are creating a new use case that let us easily document moments in our lives. We aren’t taking photos to preserve memories, or even to make art. We are using photos for something much more akin to note-taking. We’ll see an interesting new application in this category at DEMO next week.
Speaking of which, DEMO is only a week away. There are still seats in the ballroom, although the main conference hotel is sold out. That makes logistics a little tougher, but it does mean that the who’s who of the technology business will be in Phoenix next week to see 69 great products take their place on stage. If you can’t be at DEMO in person, keep an eye on this blog for reports, video, and other happenings from DEMO 2006.
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