Speed vs. Speed

This is a mini-rant, I suppose … for almost two centuries, we have tried to increase both the quality of the photographic process as well as the speed at which it can be delivered. Sure, there have been times when increases in one decreased the other, but the end goal was always the same – high quality quickly.

With the advent of smartphones, we’ve seen the speed of delivery increase exponentially. You shoot a photo and before you even comprehend what it is you have just witnesses, you can post it. This is not a good thing, but is a topic for later.

It’s the quality side of things I don’t get. We complained about the images out of instant and disposable cameras for years. Now, with high quality optics and image processing power beyond the wildest imaginations of just a decade ago, we see a proliferation of apps to … make photos look bad.

Sharp is good. Color accuracy is good. Why do you want to make good photos bad?

I’ll stop ranting now …

– Your Beloved Curmudgeon

Mark E. Johnson

2 Responses

  1. Perhaps we’ve reached a point where photographic technology is too neutral – that is to say, it is too realistic. Apps like hipstamatic are more about creating a mood, a feeling, or an emotion. There’s nothing rational or scientific about it. It’s an artistic choice to be sure (akin to lens selection, F stop, shutter speed, etc), but the results – influenced by chance and somewhat unpredictable – are what make it so addicting (see the instagram accounts of photojournalists like Koci Hernandez, Scott Strazzante, or Chip Litherland). The resulting work is unique, unrepeatable, special.

    It’s really a question of is photography mere documentation? or is it something more? is it art? Obviously, a question that people have been debating since the invention of the Daguerreotype.

    Speaking of Daguerreotypes, here’s Victoria Will’s portfolio from Sundance (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/sundance-tintype-portraits-2014). These images were slammed in the comments section for their technical imperfections (of which there are many) and their gimmicky, trendy, hispta nature. But have a look at this photo of Sam Shepard (http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/sundance-tintype-portraits-2014#slide-13). It’s intimate, revealing, and unrepeatable. There is no negative. It’s special. It goes beyond neutral representation. Like all great portraiture, the subject’s mask falls away. Using a nearly 200 year old process is also a nod to the question of the timelessness of celebrity. In 2214, it may be trendy to shoot portraits with 35mm digital cameras and Rembrandt lighting. Who knows?

  2. I think photography can encompass a lot of different ideas, from art to documentation. It’s one of the great things about it, perhaps the ultimate in democratic expression – everyone gets to say what they want with and about it.

    For me, in the context of this site, I’m looking for technical perfection in the image. But again, for me. What I want is for photojournalists to be a witness, to show me what I cannot.

    But that’s just me.

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