often been surprised how many things change around us that we do not
notice on a day-to-day basis.
is this famous experiment with frogs where if you take a frog and place
it in a pan with water sitting on a stove, and then heat the water slowly
until it boils, the frogs will eventually die in the boiling water having
never jumped out of the pan. However if you take a frog and place it
in that same pan containing already very hot water, the frog will jump
out immediately and save itself from being fried to death.
that apply to us with regard to digital photography, you will ask. Ill
tell you. Most people do not quite realize that the technological changes
that are taking place around us on a daily basis are a bit like the
boiling water. I do not suggest that we will die as a result of all
these changes, but certainly they can introduce substantial changes
in our livelihood to make the going rough, that is unless we sit up
and take notice of what is going on, and plan accordingly.
thing we should be aware of is that digital photography is only a very
very small part of the overall technological revolution going on in
the world. The significance of this notion has to do with how we envisage
the depth of the technological transformations surrounding us. Some
photographers entertain the misguided notion that what is changing for
photography is like some option that you can choose to ignore. Like
choosing between types of film, papers, or cameras, for instance.
course you can always choose to ignore anything, some people in fact
have done just that, in the midst of a war they choose to ignore the
reality surrounding them, usually with quite perilous consequences.
Some members in my own family ended up being exterminated in concentration
camps during WWII because they could not bring themselves to believe
that what was going on had much relevance to their personal lives and
therefore acted accordingly.
us review a few ideas that can shed some light on this story. If digital
technology is already prevalent in all our telecommunications, and will
soon become part of how television is broadcast; cinema is to be presented;
and if video, and photography are now all going digital; nothing to
say of all the gadgets in cars, kitchens, toys. It is affecting how
we shop; how we entertain ourselves; how we learn and educate others
and ourselves; conduct business; deal with sports; how medicine is being
practiced and last but not least, how war is being carried out with
digital technology being an integral part of modern warfare. If all
this is taking place, then I believe that it is a safe bet to state
that we can only view digital technology as it is applied to photography
as a very small companion to this massive technological transformation
of all our societies.
consider that photography could or would remain an isolated island not
subjected to all these transformations is nothing short of delusional.
you can dismiss all the evidence that is out there and suggest that
it will not come to pass in quite such a dramatic way as I suggest.
The problem with that approach is that it does not recognize the speed
of change (remember the frog?). I must admit it is a difficult call,
to know how fast things will actually change (heat up); but change they
will, about that there is, I believe, total certainty. So if things
are to change sooner or later, my personal inclination is to take the
bull by the horns as early as possible, not leave it for later. The
advantages are obvious. Those who change first, have an important competitive
advantage over those who become involved at a later stage.
are always difficult to adapt to, so if something is to begin with,
already complicated, why not make it easier on oneself by assuming the
needed changes on your own terms, rather than waiting till they are
imposed on you by external conditions?
already seen instances of photographers who refused to implement digital
technologies into their production, lose significant portions of their
business to other photographers who could produce equally compelling
work at a far lower cost.
seen business after business dealing with the printed image, in one
form or another, fall on the way side just because the onslaught of
technological changes introduced changes so great that they could not
cope with them, in due time.
just starting off in life and pondering where to go and learn about
photography, my advice is to choose those places that offer the most
advanced information as to what is going on now. To go today and learn
all about darkroom work is like training in steam engine technology.
Interesting? Probably. However, to earn a living, probably not.
In a recent
discussion with a friend of mine who runs a teaching institution, he
was telling me that today the number of students seeking work shops
and wanting to learn traditional technologies (both in film and photography)
was considerably higher, than those asking for digital equivalents.
I was not surprised at all, with that piece of information. After all,
the momentum is just starting in the direction of digital technologies.
But think about it, if it takes you four years, let us say, to cover
all the learning you have to do, then would it not make sense to learn
for what is going to be needed four years from now?
emerge from your four year training period, you would probably want
to have acquired those skills that are needed at that time, not have
to start all over because what you learned is no longer applicable in
the market place. For instance, you learned how to work wonderful prints
in the dark room only to find out that the local newspaper that can
hire you, is all digital and not interested at all in your dark room
skills (they dont even have a dark room anymore). Or you go to
the local museum archive, and discover they are now working only with
digital technologies. You turn up at a corporation to work in their
internal publications department, as a photographer, and discover they
now work all digital; you set up your studio to do school pictures,
and discover that your competitors do all their work using digital formats,
underselling you by a wide margin. We can go on, in every possible direction
and the story will always be more or less the same.
the worst offenders in this transition period are the very people who
should be leading the learning curve, the teachers. Too many are simply
holding back others for fear of making their lack of knowledge the issue.
They argue and defend the old regime simply to maintain
their privileges and cover up their ignorance. Many times even their
superiors lend support to such attitudes for lack of real knowledge
of their own. All of this will simply have to work itself out in a Darwinian
evolution of the species, with the survival of the fittest. With the
statistics showing us that in the United States, 48 million youngsters
between 5 and 17 use computers, that is 90% of that population, we see
that in a couple of generations the change over will have been completed
in spite of the teachers who are holding others back.
the kids are actually teaching each other rather than waiting for an
adult to come up with solutions. Games are one example, some of these
are quite complicated to understand and deal with, yet six and seven
year olds, are managing quite well to teach each other in a network
of information that should make adults take notice. I have yet to see
the equivalent network of my seven year old and his friends, with that
of my photographer colleagues and their willingness to participate in
such structures. Their spontaneous idea of sharing knowledge within
their network is a world apart from that of adults who would benefit
mightily from such an approach.
as it appears, did not have to crash into the icebergs the night that
it sunk, the disaster could have been averted by merely paying attention
to the elements surrounding them and acting accordingly. Captain Smith
ignored seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships. If he
had called for the ship to slow down then maybe the Titanic disaster
would not have happened. Arrogance also seems to have been an important
part in the mistakes made that night. The belief that the ship was unsinkable.
be able to take our cues from the frogs and it should be possible to
see that the disaster aboard the Titanic did not need to happen either.
In much the same way, the photographers learning curve to acquire
the working knowledge to be proficient in the digital age which is not
an easy or quick fix, should be dealt with in a timely manner. I have
said it in many forums; the most difficult part of it all is to have
the time needed to learn and practice. As any surfer will tell you,
you want to ride the crest of the wave, not have it come crashing down
on you, we therefore need to think ahead and look around to understand
what has to be done and the need to network.
spirit, let us have a discussion on this topic, the benefit of the Internet
is that it is a two way street, and you can express your opinions in
our forums. Give us examples of why you agree or not with your own personal
experiences and what your plans are to deal with the undergoing changes.
(For comments post a message in our forum
section at ZoneZero.)
April 12, 2002