There isn’t a great name for the last decade, some have started calling it the ‘The Naughts’ Whatever name gets applied to this decade, it will be remembered as the decade of the greatest changes in photography, rivaled only by the changes in imagery brought about over several decades when the photograph was first invented. Purists and traditional photographers may claim it was a decade that destroyed photography. More liberal minded photographers will speak enthusiastically about the speed, quality, new workflows, and social networks referencing how these really made photography into a beautiful culture. All of the changes, frustrations, and developments can really be attributed to one single cause; digital.
That word probably means little to anyone anymore. Really, what isn’t digital anymore: TV, phone service, everything possible on a computer, even your toilet. Now that stoic porcelain masterpiece may have more computing power than a 1970s rocket ship.
However the transition into a digital world truly is very new in the scope of imaging’s history, and remarkably influential.
In this century we went from the very first dSLR made by Nikon (actually released in 1999), to the point where hearing a photographer talk about shooting analog is something interesting and unusual. Your camera will now correct for white balance, have a screen, live view, incredibly fast autofocus, video capability, TTL off camera flash… and we can now look forward to touch screens on camera bodies, nearly infinite ISO capabilities and file sizes, better tonal range and image quality. Yet if you stop and think, the idea of a reusable light-capturing device was once an earth-shattering concept new to everyone at the beginning of this decade.
• 1999: Nikon D1 SLR, 2.74 megapixel for $6000
• 2001 Canon EOS 1d
• 2002 Foven X3 chip announced. A really great piece of technology that went nowhere, except to a dead end in a Sigma…
• 2003: Canon’s Rebel is the first dSLR for under $1000
• 2004 Web 2.0 starts making ground, interconnectedness and photographers’ online culture starts to take off. Flickr launched. Kodak stops making film cameras.
• 2005 photographers start taking up blogging, which is growing faster and faster by the end of the decade. Canon EOS 5D; first consumer priced dSLR
• 2006 Red camera announced to be released in 2007; industry soils its pants.. Lightroom launched easing the growing pains of digital asset management for many photographers. Tone mapping and ‘Dave Hill’ now more popular than a chocolate bar on ‘The Biggest Loser’. Strobist blog started by Dave Hobby.
• 2007 Virgin Mobile makes ad campaign from pictures all harvested from Flickr under Creative Commons. No compensation other than ‘credit’.
• 2008 – Polaroid announces it is discontinuing the production of all instant film products, citing the rise of digital imaging technology. Red announces Scarlet/Epic; industry soils itself a second time.
• 2008 Nikon releases d90 first dSLR with HD video, followed by Canon’s 5D II with huge positive response.
• 2009 – Kodachrome film dead. Stock photo runs on Time magazine cover, rights purchased for $30; photog happy. http://www.lightstalkers.org/posts/time-pays-3000-for-cover-photographer-ecstatic Annie Leibowitz overspends like crazy and almost loses all of her work.
Many trends can’t be attributed to a single date, but morever are a shift in trends and habits over time. The ease and accessibility provided by ‘The Naughts’ has brought the quality of amateur/hobbyist photography much closer to that of a working professional. Art buyers, companies and clients have caught on to the bloated amateur photography sector, and seek out many amateurs for the cash saving opportunities. Whether attempting to get a foot in the door, get a relationship started, poor business practices, or any other reason, many photographers have started shooting for low rates or even ‘Credit’.
Traditional visual media disintegrates into chaos; newspapers and magazines roll off their last editions. The remaining scramble in an attempt to reinvent everything they do to stay in business, many staff photogs layed off in favor of freelancers.
Professional photographers now work with nearly disposable digital camera bodies. Expensive black boxes that are dated as quickly as a selectively desaturated image.
Image quality and file sizes skyrocket, digital noise is destroyed by the likes of d3 and 7d. The digital noise of ‘Best Camera’ and naval gazing blogs continues to grow. Digital noise is taboo, while some photographers start to add film grain in Photoshop to their digital files.
The dark room goes… dark? Photographers were once found hunched in the corner of a dark room hovering over a toxic soup of processing chemicals as they develop their film, Instead they are curled over a keyboard with a mug of now cold coffee, but still are suffering from vitamin D deficiency in their pixel pushing pain cave.
The articles I’ve been reading which try to make sense of The Naughts seem to be suggesting a pessimistic look at this decade; Terrorism, Climate Change, Economic disaster, H191 and other diseases have triumph the headlines. It seems if you have a working body and a full stomach you basically won the lottery. Will the memories of photographers be as downcast as the general populous? The lost jobs, failing salaries, penny-pinching clients, and copyright woes overshadow whatever good may come of it?
Some may call me a raging optimist, which may be a bit true, however I’ll still insist The Naughts were pretty awesome. The affordability and accessibility presented by the golden age of digital photography opened up a creative outlet for the hundreds of thousands of people who now identify themselves as a photographer. Be it beginner, amateur, hobbyist, apprentice or professional, digital photography has brought about wonderful changes for how we are able to perceive, interpret and capture the world, and transmit our ideas. Especially for those like myself who lack the fine motor skills to paint or musical aptitude to sing or play an instrument, this decade of photography was a really wonderful thing.
The photographic process also underwent the biggest overhaul in terms of workflow, and capture that we may ever see. From a single use transparency film with quite limited ISO capabilities to a reusable sensor with unheard of ISO capabilities, from dark rooms full of chemicals to comfortable computer chairs, from shipping insured negatives to online delivery of impeccable derivative files, from images on paper to digital magazines. Digital technology in the very first dSLRs at the beginning of this decade would barely pass as acceptable in today’s point and shoot.
Postproduction workflows will continue to advance at astounding rates and presentation methods will continue to transform with touch interface tablet reading devices looming on our horizon. Video on dSLR cameras will move from its infancy to maturity and continue to blur the lines in between still and video capture. However the fundamental tools that photographers use to capture and process ideas to transpose them into images will never again go through such rapid change all encompassing change.
Looking forward to the next decade. (What will we call this one: The Teenies/Teens/Tens?) There are all the technical advancements to come down the pipe, software upgrades and expenditures, but what will categorize the future of this new decade that we have the pleasure of painting? Will the professional market become more cutthroat, stock prices continue to rush to the point at which they are free, working professionals put out of business, and visual media/advertising budgets slashed? Will amateur photography push towards quantity or quality?
I am looking forward to the possibilities and advancements eagerly, and a dSLR that makes me breakfast too would be nice. (It’s not asking too much more is it?) I hope to see a collective push for quality, cooperation and community among photographers. An effort to make better and more beautiful images for true appreciation of great work, and an attempt to educate all photographers about their work’s value, even if they are beginners.
Happy new years to all, and many thanks to those who have helped me as a photographer in the last decade.
Oh, and Canon/Nikon, it would be nice to see the PC flash sync go the way of the dodo, would be a nice way to start this decade.