Monday, May 18, 2015


Kirk Tuck, in a piece I cited recently, makes the claim that photographers are increasingly hanging it up. They're quitting. Or at any rate they're not using their fancy expensive cameras any more.

I don't know how true that is, but it feels likely.

We do know these things:

  • Sales of interchangeable lens cameras are dropping steadily.
  • Sales of interchangeable lens cameras are still several multiples larger than the equivalent film cameras ever were.
  • Sales are still greater than zero -- people are still buying these things.
  • Production of pictures has gone up over the last ten years by many factors that dwarf camera sales.

There's no question that some people are just getting exhausted and quitting, once they see just how many pictures there are out there. What we don't know is whether these people are a trivial minority, or enough to constitute an interesting trend.

There's also no question that tons and tons of people -- far more than in the days of film -- are taking pictures with cameras they're paying some serious coin for.

I've talked about people who just want pictures in the past. I'm pretty sure they're an interesting category, and I'm pretty sure they are all, 100%, using their phones now.

I also know that I am far more focused than I used to be. I basically never, ever take the camera out without a very specific purpose in mind. I might not have the exact shot(s) in mind, although often I do, but I have a very specific theme in mind.

The casual walking-around looking-for-pictures thing is gone from my life, there's simply no point. The casual day-to-day this-is-my-life photography is mostly the phone, although I do take the camera on trips or "occasions" of one sort or the other. These changes are to an extent wrought by my awareness of the River Of Pictures out there. I know I am not going to Ansel Adams my way to fame, just walking around with a camera looking for iconic pictures. Not gonna happen.

Kirk made a really interesting analogy, this idea of a sort of Art Capacitor. I think you can make a case that there really isn't any such thing as an iconic picture any more. There's an idea, and a sort of cloud of pictures that execute that idea to greater or lesser degrees. The single picture embodying the idea is now more or less irrelevant, since everything good (or simply brightly colored) is now instantly copied endlessly.

It's not even possible, usually, to identify a sort of Picture Zero to assign credit for, since every iconic idea is derived and intermingled with other ideas. It's not even a single ideal idea-point surrounded by a cloud of pictures, it's more of a branching tangled vine of ideas, with knots every now and then where the picture-cloud of executions get particularly thick.

It would not be at all surprising to me to find that Serious Photographers are hanging it up. It's depressing to realize that you're not a distinctive voice in the wilderness, you're more of a single cell in a vast picture-taking organism.

The attentive reader knows my solution: don't try to make iconic pictures. Make portfolios instead.


  1. HI, I like reading your blog. Makes me think a lot. So you are saying that people that take pictures with a phone are not photographers? Sounds kind of chauvinistic. I take pictures with both a DSLR and a cell phone and I think I am a photographer. What do you think? thanks Mike J.

    1. In a literal sense, sure they're photographers. So, it depends on what you mean.

      I don't intend to be pejorative here, though. Sometimes you just want a record shot of the kids being cute, the dog sleeping, grandma holding the baby. Some people mostly want these record shots. In broad strokes I think it's fair to say that these people 'just want pictures' and they don't give a damn about controlling depth of field or whatever.

      Other people, or the same people at a different time, want to take a photograph. Maybe they're making art, or trying to tell a story, or maybe they just love playing with cameras. They do want to manage depth of field, or any of dozens of other fundamentally photographic aspects of the picture.

      The former people are perfectly happy with an iPhone, and they ought to be. It serves their needs perfectly, and trying to sell them on anything else is disingenuous.

      The latter people, well, they might like the iPhone and they might not. It depends on what they're going for.