Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dear Ahmet

Foam Lab 2012 © Foam

After reading Ahmet Polat's blog about Instagram and how he believes it is photography's worst enemy, we at Foam Lab (Foam's younger experimental division) felt we should reply. In Polat's piece, he expresses fear and concern about the disruption in photography and its related industries caused by democratization of photographic techniques and means due to technological developments. In the following text we would like to express how we see these issues.

First of all: here at Foam Lab, we love photography. Tried and true art photography by recognized photographers, silly cheap snapshots from vacations, photos posted to social networks only to share a moment or observation, each and every photo on Instagram in which people are trying to emulate their heroes. They're all the artifacts of a medium moving forward, changing, developing, a medium that everyone can use, understand, relate to and appropriate, a medium that wants to be explored in all possible ways, be it for communication, art, documentation or anything else.

Technology has been disrupting and changing many industries in the past years. Music, newspapers and advertising are just a few which have been turned completely upside down by the rise of, among other things, the internet. Were you renting out a music studio with mid-level gear to musicians wanting to record their first EP? Too bad, they can now probably buy their own complete home studio for the same money, and use free and open source software to record and edit as long as they want. Made your money as a distributor, pressing CDs and getting them in stores? Tough luck, musicians using post-scarcity models are building their audience with virtual copies of their music sold directly to listeners. These things didn't kill music. Some lost their job, others found new ways to monetize their skill set. Middlemen were cut out, everyone had to adapt to a (still) changing situation. But in the end it was better for music and musicians alike. It resulted in music being more diverse and accessible than ever. The only ones telling you otherwise are those who still have their roots firmly set in a outdated economic model which has become laughably obsolete. Change is not a clean process without its victims, but it is inevitable. How we deal with it is our own responsibility.

A similar thing is happening in photography. Of course photography and music are two different crafts and skills, but it is in their similarities that we can see how we should be excited rather than fearful. Instagram, Flickr, affordable quality cameras, entry-level SLRs, online guides, photography forums, how-to's on youtube and much more are making photography more intuitive, accessible, cheaper to practice and easier to share. Photos that would've taken tons in equipment and practice can now be made with someone's phone. Amounts of practice that would've taken years in time for developing and printing and thousands in materials can now be reached in a matter of weeks. Every day 250 million photos are being uploaded to Facebook (and we're not even counting Picasa, Flickr or other services here). There is more photography now than ever before. More people do it, more people are excited about it, more people are getting deeper into it. Is this not a fact to rejoice about?

Polat claims that photographers who have worked for 15 years or more to groom their craft, create a vision and fight for a position to convey their idea's are now 'giving in' and accepting their efforts were 'meaningless'. I will gladly go as far as to say that any photographer who works for 15 years or more and then calls his or her accomplishments meaningless due to any kind of technological development should either not be called a photographer (or artist) or perhaps should simply reassess what 'meaning' is. These are exciting times of rapid change. Many must adapt and it's not always pretty. There will be product photographers with 15 years of experience who lose their job to a software package. There will be photographers whose merit depends on their use of vintage cameras and techniques who will hardly be distinguishable from an insightful Instagrammer. Though in some cases their sudden obsolescence or work of loss is regrettable, it is also inevitable. Cries of woe or contempt from the older or more established have never been known to bring change (for better or worse) to a halt.

People with creativity and vision have however always been known to adapt and survive. Harshly put: if you can't take 15 years of experiences and skills and be creative and dynamic about how you apply them, you don't belong in the 21st century. If one's creativity and vision lose their worth to a camera app with a few filters and borders, that creativity and vision itself was in fact no more than a superficial application to begin with. Those with true creativity and vision however, will never have to fear.

These are tumultuous times. Everything is falling apart and changing, but everything is also possible and open. These are exciting times. Can you keep up?

Foam Lab 2012


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