I’ve had this nagging thought for awhile. With information so liquid now, trending becomes much clearer than it used to. That means, so too does copying become easier. As I walked around the Aperture gallery the other day looking over their show for reGeneration, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pervasive insecurity. It was a distinctly different feeling from what I experienced looking over the book. As small prints, most of the pictures were, at very least, interesting, and sometimes quite engaging. But seen larger and isolated in the context of an exhibition, many didn’t hold up. Not for lack of talent, for sure, but, rather, because it seemed the ideas behind the pictures hadn’t fully emerged. Too many were one-note riffs on themes developed more fully by others.
The photography world is one of fetishes. New trends come and go as regularly as new restaurants in big cities. But what has changed in recent times is the speed of it all. And I think this is significant. A photographer used to have years or decades to develop and flesh out their work. Now, people have weeks and months. You can watch palettes, objects, light usage, and composition change before your very eyes these days. By this point, a style a mere 3 years old can be enough peg you as so yesterday, and I think this robs photographers of the ability to really develop. Would we have an Edward Weston, a William Eggleston or a Nan Goldin in today’s climate?
It may be true that we can read and learn about new information at an accelerated pace. But can we process it and explore it at that same pace? Having the luxury to know that no one is hot on your heels anytime you have an interesting idea gives you creative space. You have the time to fail, which means you also have the time to succeed. Really succeed. Not just to create some really cool pictures here and there, but to make a lasting statement. I don’t know that we can. But technology isn’t going to change, and, if anything, things seem to be going even faster.
Are we on the verge of a massive shift in the meaning of photography? Already, we start to see evidence of fractures. Take, for example, the slow photography movement (here’s a great article from Slate). And my friend Minh-Ha, curator and author from Of Another Fashion passed this article on to me, talking about the experiential value of photography in the Facebook age. I don’t know where it’s all going to go, but I think it’s an exciting time to take risks and break with tradition. To me, the question isn’t going to be whether we need to adapt. I think if these are the changes we see only a decade or so into things, we absolutely do. It’s just a matter of how.