Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Goodbye Tradition?

I had a very interesting conversation with a design colleague recently, about the current state of the creative industries as a whole. Don't get me wrong, we weren't sat there cursing and lamenting about 'the good old days' or the fact that our industries have progressed to such a level that - thanks in no small part to the raft of technological developments – things are often inclined to be more complicated now than they need be.

No, we were talking about tradition – or, rather, the traditional ways in which we have gone about our business, both now and in the past. This all came about during a meeting in which I showed him my 'traditional' portfolio (translation – 'printed') and vice versa. It was in many ways a breath of fresh air to see 'actual' pages in an 'actual' portfolio, given that we all seem to default to our websites for showing off our work these days.

I have thought about this for some time now, and spoken to many colleagues across varying industries. And it would appear that there is a shared consensus out there...

Like many others, I have a genuine concern that within the next generation or two, the kids coming out of colleges and universities will have no regard for – or at the very least very little knowledge of – the background to this wonderful art we all photography.

You see, I believe it is so important to have a knowledge of what came before the latest 'technology revolution' because without this we are simply all about the ones and zeros. Learning to understand how light works, f-stops, shutter speeds, how to time your pictures, how to stand back and observe, to get the most out of your subjects - are such things even taught anymore?

I still get great pleasure from diving into a coffee-table book of works by such masters as Weegee, Cartier-Bresson, and McCullin. Whether it be the simple act of looking at other people's work 'for what it is' or as research for inspiration in our own projects – I really do think that taking the time to do this is greatly undervalued. And the concern is that graduates simply do not appreciate this. Or, perhaps, they think that looking at contemporary photographers is enough. This begs the simple but blunt question: just who inspired these contemporaries? Answer: the great photographers from years gone by. As with many walks of life, without inspiration we fulfill merely a small proportion of our potential.

Time and again, I have clients say to me “Well, of course, it's just so easy and convenient these days, what with digital cameras”. True, technology is an important factor in modern professional photography (actually, it can sometimes be a double-edged sword), but it is not the be-all-and-end-all. Far from it.

Cameras and their associated equipment can only take you so far; there is much truth in the old adage that 'it is not the camera but the photographer that makes a picture'. And so, if this is the case, I have to wonder: where does that leave those photographers who have little or no knowledge of photography's glorious past?

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