The Democratisation of Photography and its effect on photographic creativity


During the course of its history, Photography has undergone three democratisations.

One – The Invention of Photography

Around 1839, Photography was invented in France, England and Brazil by 4 different people.

In 1839 the French government bought the French invention from Daguerre and in an act of democracy gave it free to the world. Its use spread rapidly all over the globe and a new profession, Photography, was born.

Two – Consumer Photography

In the last quarter of the 19th century, photographic technology made huge advances, such as the invention of dry-plates that were more sensitive, improved cameras and lenses, new shutters, the invention of flash and the introduction of color. In 1888, George Eastman began selling the Kodak camera. The price was affordable and perhaps more important, it was relatively user friendly. Kodak’s motto was “You press we do the rest”. Millions of the circular photographs were taken by ordinary people, leaving the Photographers with less work and with a sense of devaluation of their art. The new technologies enabled portability, spontaneity, the capture of movement and opened up many new areas for photography.

Many photographers, in an attempt to define their work as Fine-Art, began to practise Pictorial Photography, developing a number of differentiations of the normal photographic process. E.g. the gum-bichromate process. These techniques were more painterly in their expression, much like the Instagrams of today. After the 1st World War, some Pictorialists e.g. Alfred Stieglitz, changed their points of view to a more direct approach to Photography. Pictorial Photography became outmoded and photography began to take on a Modernistic appearance.

Three – Digital Photography

The third democratization is taking place now. Towards the end of the 20th century, with the advent of the digital camera and the Internet, the use of photography started increasing exponentially. Today, cameraphones are contributing images to online albums and Social Media using photography, proliferate. More than 30 billion Instagrams, for example,  have been uploaded to the Instagram site (2nd February, 2016).

Photographers who are using photos for more than social communication are well into the impasse, “It’s been done before”.

I know that Photography is undergoing huge changes and that new paradigms are being formed.

In search of new ideas and innovation for myself, I looked at the History of Photography, thinking that an understanding of  the work of Photographers from different periods of time would provide answers to the questions of what is being done now in Photography, where it is going in the future and how I should shape my photographic approach. I looked at my personal Photographic History and asked myself “What have I been doing until now and what should I be doing in the future”?

Part 1: My Personal Photographic History

I have discerned four stages in my Personal Photographic History.

Each stage has created a layer or component in the way that I capture images.

Each layer is present in my photographs.

Stage One – 1963: At 8 years old I was captivated by the magic of photography.

It is the ability of the camera to capture every nuance of appearance and to place it in the palm of your hand.

This magic is perhaps the most basic aspect and can be found in almost every photograph.

Stage Two – 1973: I started taking my camera with me wherever I went.

My photographs enlarged my world and became extensions of myself.

Stage Three – 1980: The images in my photographs, like the images in dreams, are reflections of my self.

I learned that photographs have meaning beyond their literal imagery.

Stage Four – 2009: In the desire for immortality, I tell my story.

Every day people are telling their stories through art, music, writing, their professions, and many other ways.

Part 2: A general History of Photography

I ask myself if I can discern these same stages/layers in the general History of Photography.

Am I a product of the General History or is the General History a product of many individual histories?

The truth is probably that they mutually create each other.

Stage One – 1826: The Magic of Photography

Photography was almost simultaneously invented by four people in 3 different countries.

In spite of the complicated and even dangerous, procedures, millions of portraits and images of the world around were made by the new profession of Photographers.

All were captivated by the magic of photography.

Stage Two – 1850: A window onto the world

Photography made a much larger world available to the public

Stage Three – 1920: Photography as metaphor

Photography, being a creation of man in society, portrays the individual and bears the mark of his life.

By photographing clouds, Stieglitz meant to demonstrate how “to hold a moment, how to record something so completely, that all who see [the picture of it] will re-live an equivalent of what has been expressed”.

Minor White – The camera reveals “things for what they are and for what else they are”.

Stage Four – 2000: Third Democratization of Photography

Huge numbers of photographers today are experiencing Vision and telling “their stories”. They do so in very individual and many varied ways. Perhaps this is the way out of “it’s been done before”, telling a personal story, something that reveals our selves. Our own individuality is what makes our photography different.

There is no better way for me to tell my story, than by recording my life.

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