Photo: “Hula Hoop Holder,” Seattle 2013. Ricoh GXR 50mm
Photo: “Fifth Avenue,” April 2013, Seattle, with iPhone 5
Not too long ago, I was asked whether I thought that mobile photography scene would become divided between those who share images as visual art and those who use their images as visual language in order to communicate with their friends? Would the work of the former lose reliability because of the latter?
My answer is that I don’t think mobile photography culture or scene is monolithic. It’s already divided into many, many strains. Artistic work versus informative work is a false dichotomy, a misleading and inaccurate divide. Good work tends to transcend our pre-conceived biases or expectations, most of the time. That’s why it’s good–the work surprises us, jars us, moves us away from our own limiting absolutes of what is or isn’t “art.”
When people write status updates using verbal language (words) I don’t have a hard time distinguishing an informational status update from a lyrical, poetic, or witty one. I think it’s the same with visual language. We can tell the difference between them, you know, the difference between an image that is communicating just information, and one that is communicating something in addition, something meaningful, insightful or beautiful.
Many people in the world for thousands of years have had the ability to write, in whatever language, and I don’t think that fact alone has in any way threatened the artistry of writers working in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or drama. Other things threaten their artistry perhaps, but not the fact that many, many people write. Increased literacy improves the quality of writing. It improves the quality of literature by making more stories available to more people. Increased literacy also makes us better readers.
Now, many many people have the means to communicate visually with one another. We make more images, and we view more images. We’ll get use to this fact. We’ll still be able in the long run to discern artistry from the rest. I’m optimistic, because I do think we have a better opportunity for encouraging, nurturing and finding such visual talent, when we have sharing networks available like we do. And to do this means that viewers have to step up, too. Learn to read sensitively, critically, with discernment to sort through such volumes as we do.
Accessibility, fluency, ease: these aren’t the equivalent of talent. The photograph that moves us, that sends us into our own imaginations when we view it, or changes our concept of ourselves or others, that nudges us to care deeper for others and know better ourselves–these are going to be few and far between, because they are special. Talent that can do this is less prevalent in any age. But the pool from which such visual talent may arise has increased tenfold: more sources of inspiration, instruction, and competition. We can take up the challenge of making and finding good work from all that’s in the pool, and I think this kind of challenge is a good thing rather than something to be feared.