A Few Musings by George Dunbar

Aunt Lizzie on her farm with my baby sister c1950. I used a Kodak box camera.

My little sister and our Aunt Lizzie on her farm c1950. I used a Kodak Brownie¬†camera…

Toronto. My friend George Dunbar sent me a¬†note after he visited this year’s CNE. His observations fit in with the posts I have been making over the last while – often based on material George himself provided. He muses here about the impact of the ubiquitous smart phone camera on the career of the professional photographer. Have a read…

Photography — What’s happened?
A Few Musings By George Dunbar

The explosion that’s taken place in amateur photography in the last 5-10 years is absolutely astounding! When I visited the CNE recently, I was surrounded by thousands of other camera-toting enthusiasts. They were shooting everything and anything with their modern, thin, flat devices that were unheard of only a decade ago. The multi-use camera phones are everywhere. I was embarrassed to be seen with my bulky Nikon SLR.

Every event is now captured by a multitude of camera-phones both still and video. Tourists appear to photograph everything in sight; weddings are photographed by most of the guests. Have these devices become an addiction? Some have been seen to photograph the Mona Lisa in the Louvre without so much as a second glance to absorb the actual object before their eyes. Millions of the images are quickly uploaded to Web sites for all to share. When one witnesses the phenomenon of these activities, it’s not unusual to see “selfies” being produced by the dozens. The “selfie stick” has achieved a reputation of its own!

The social impact of this revolution in photography is, only now, beginning to reveal its benefits and tragic downside. It’s wonderful that we now continue to record weddings, birthdays, family picnics and outings just as our ancestors did with their (also revolutionary) Kodak Brownie cameras more than a hundred years ago. The difference is that today’s images are composed of “bits and bytes” in a digital format that cannot be seen without electrical power and a computer. We still have many of those early Brownie photos available for review today because paper prints were preserved in family photo albums and no additional device is required for viewing. Will the billions of digital photographs taken these days be available to our descendants?

The great advantage of digital photography of course, is the ability to instantly share our visions with others world-wide. And the cost (without Kodak’s involvement) is nil. As amateurs continue shooting at the fantastic pace that’s now common, they will quickly gain the experience and abilities to produce wonderful results – in many cases, close to professional quality. I’m amazed each time I view online photo-sharing sites where excellent images and evidence of inventiveness are abundant.

The ever-increasing volume of photography by amateurs has had however, an alarming economic effect on professional photographers who once had a monopoly on the use of images by media, business and industry. It’s unfortunate today that many amateurs are persuaded to give their outstanding digital photographs to commercial users without compensation. Amateurs are naturally pleased by the ego-boosting exposure they receive when their images are freely published. At the same time, many professionals have left the business. Much of the startling spot-news photography we’ve seen in recent years is the result of an amateur’s camera being “in the right place at the right time.” That was a rare occurrence in the days before camera-phones. It’s now regularly reported that newspapers are reducing and/or closing their photography departments.

There can be no doubt that the recent revolution in photography is another example of technological achievement that will change society in many ways. Let’s hope that the joy of recording images (thru any and all means) and the immense pleasure of viewing the best of those images will continue to be a valued pastime for everyone.

P.S. Recent news reveals another amazing advantage we should celebrate. A space probe (Rosetta) has photographed the Philae lander on a comet and “e-mailed” the images to Earth. Certainly an “out-of-this-world” achievement for digital photography that could never have been accomplished with film!

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