Photography, no doubt, is experiencing a tectonic shift. Consumers move in waves from point-and-shoot cameras to just using iPhones and Android phones. The shift affected DSLR sales too, shifting the power to smartphones. It seems like this war, for our wallets, and our convenience, is won.
Just reading up on all the technical and software intricacies that goes into the latest iPhone is mind-boggling. The software, in an iconic phrase of Andreessen Horowitz, is eating the world. It is now easier than ever before to just grab a phone and get an amazing picture, without knowing how it’s done. Do we even need “real” cameras anymore?
Photography nowadays is by far the most popular hobby in the world. So much so that I don’t think it should really qualify as a hobby. It’s just something we all do. It is now firmly a part of a daily routine. It’s been a long time since I’ve met a person who didn’t take a picture at least once a day — be it of their family, a receipt, a location of their parked car, or a beautiful flower. It’s just natural for us humans to accumulate memories, and visual memories are fast to capture and retrieve, all thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
We take photos because we want to capture the moment in order to keep a memory, a visual record of it. But not all moments are equally important — while most are mundane, some are most dear to our hearts.
One of the most cherished memories I keep is actually a film photo. It was 17 years ago, and I just received a film camera as a gift from my family. I was then just 17. I had a digital camera before that but was wishing for a film camera that I could learn from. There was something about all the adjustments, the process of slowing down and thinking before the shot, and of course, the very finite quantities of film that make every click of a shutter into a remarkable tiny burst of magic. A moment that will remain there.
That photograph, one of the very few items I now keep safe, is of my father, as he is sitting on a bench, looking relaxed, and it’s one of those rare moments where he is not trying to hide from the camera, but looks straight into it, with hands locked together at the back of his head. He is leaning back on a bench, not a smile, but not a frown either — just him.
He passed away three years ago. I keep this photo as a print and have a digitally scanned copy as well. There aren’t many photos of him, and the lack of options makes this one particularly treasured. I could trade all my food photos, all the Instagrams, for a few more photos where he is happy or relaxed. This is probably why photography became such a big part of my life. It allowed me to share — and keep — what is important to me.
There are perhaps only a few dozen moments in our lives that are worth reliving over and over. Without a camera, we rely on memories and imagination, and with it, we are able to go back to the exact memories, getting a stronger and a more vivid recollection. From a dozen or so moments I have, only a few are captured on camera, leaving me wanting more.
Photography is changing, and all the smartphones are actually showing those who express interest in going forward and exploring their creative vision and sharing visual stories to move to more deliberate tools. You will not see a dentist with a kid’s toy set from Walmart (I hope), and you will not see a photographer on a mission-critical shoot with iPhone. There’s a right tool for every job.
I have to say that I’m biased towards the work that Fujifilm is doing. The retro styling of X-T1, I owned before, and later, X-T2 camera was a draw for me. I liked the knobs because I thought it will slow me down, allowing to actually take time to appreciate the work I was doing. One of the thrills I get is to enjoy the knowledge of what I am doing. Whether it’s a manual mode or aperture priority, I can set all the settings with my eyes closed, and knowing surface area to calculate the F stop, or the exposure triangle, makes me feel confident I will get the shot I’m after.
There’s an important divide on where and how pictures live, too. Smartphone pictures, and I believe I’m not alone, are a sort of daily snaps, rarely escaping the digital universe, migrating from screen to screen, and rarely making an appearance in prints or other mediums. With film and digital cameras, it seems like crossing this divide into a print, book, or wall art form is easier, more effortless. We now firmly live in the digital world, but it is still a film print with chemicals, ink, and paper forever fused together that I protect. It seems more real — whether it’s the subtle physical presence or the tactile feeling of matte photo paper, I don’t know.
The more the world gets overwhelmed with social media, news, and notifications, the greater the need to hurl away, disappear, unwind, and shut down. This need is only going to grow stronger. We need to connect, connect in person, without wires, without the help of apps. Just connect, as humans. And looking at more screens is not an answer. Let us go forward by going back, taking the time for the moment to be meaningful and taking the shot that really matters.