I honestly have mixed reviews for this book, at times I was addicted towards the information that Fred Ritchin gives about the digital age, but however, Ritchin goes off on unneedable tangents about his life events and possible irrelevant points that possibly didn’t personally benefit me and therefore I felt it dragged and I lost concentration many a time. Although this was only written in 2009, in terms of how quickly the digital age moves, his predictions are pretty interesting, for example ‘cyborgs’, but we’ll get to that later on.
So what are the basic facts that Ritchin tries to implant in our mines? The first is perhaps that we don’t all live in a digital age. Yes we’re most reading this on our MacBook pros, and yes our phones are sat right there in front of us whilst the TV babbles on in the background, but this is just our western lifestyle. Only 1 in 6 billion of us in the world have the chance to be a “Digital Native”. Take the recent epidemic of Ebola for instance; it’s been going on for years and the latest out-brake of the virus means that we all know about it. Whether it is from the news on the television, Facebook posts or showings on a big screen about symptoms whilst we wait to see a doctor. However, the only way people in the actual country where this is taking place will only know through community workers providing information orally by foot.
The digital world affects us in so many ways today, “40 percent of Americans would use genetic engineering to upgrade their children mentally and physically”. Today we have avatars, 3D ultra scans and surveillance on every part of the street we walk on. Is this right? Whether or not we know it, we are surrounded by technology wherever we are. But we are bounded by the digital world, and for a reason. Take the horrific event that happened on the 11th September, imagine if those people had mobile phones that could record the event and be posted on twitter instantly. We would have gained an understanding of the terror that they went through and so much can be learned from it, such as the London bombings where people on the underground filmed it and are able to see it and try to experience it and learn from it.
I found a quote that Ritchin provides us with as really interesting, “We are all photographers now!”, taken from a 2007 exhibition in Switzerland. This is perhaps the most frightening thought for a true photography artist, we can all go and buy a SLR camera for a couple of pounds but should we? He goes on to say, “Does the photograph still require a photographer, or even a camera?”. Will the future mean that the concept of a photographer will be un existent? “A digital camera can be part of a larger personal communicator”, we presumes that he is talking about camera phones, and yes they are beneficially in many ways, but have we, as photographers, lost that connection with our precious cameras? However, I do not believe that camera phones will be associated as one of the great tools of photography, as there are so many opportunities for horrific behaviour as it is more than just a “camera”, it is a device. For example Ritchin uses the example of Abu Ghraib prison and the camera being a tool to record bulling and rape, humiliating the “Subject”.
Ritchin, in one chapter, talks all about how the main part of taking a photograph is actually after the shutter is released, “There is not even any room to dream”. Does editing software restrict and limit our creativity way of thinking? We can go out to the street as amateur photographs, take a fuzzy, blurry mess and then edited on Photoshop to create a “masterpiece” which will then be uploaded to instagram and get hundred of likes. Is that long process of setting up your camera properly and waiting to get that one beautiful decisive moment just pointless now?
So with this change in the way that photographs are being recorded and what with, does this effect the original, past photography? Ritchin describes the current state of this photography as a “Photographic Graveyard” and he goes on the say, “People no longer need the museum to display work”. Never before have people been paying so much money for photographic prints that you can physically hold. They’re paying a lot. So does this mean that photography is coming to an end and people are starting to view it as a past, historical landmark and they feel the need to buy these souvenirs?
The way that Ritchin describes amateur photographers now is very fascinating, “Excitement of seeing something for the first time through a lens”, he talks about recent projects where groups of people, for example orphans children in Africa, are given disposable cameras and they create the most amazing photographs. Are we, as artists, trying to copy the visual ascetics of amateurs, “Professionals pay more attention to how amateurs envision the world”. Is this true? Are we as photographs trying to capture that instagram way of life, to overall appeal to a mass audience? Is it right that if vloggers have the state of the art photographic equipment like their camera and lighting, create a better piece than a photographer who doesn’t? I would argue not but it’s an important consideration.
Another point that Ritchin tries to state is that our audience has a completely different say now compared to previously. We now put our work on blogs, on social media and anywhere else where it can be seen, and therefore it will be talked about. We can no longer use fiction to create a piece of work or else it will be perhaps slated. Have we lost that ability and right to be creative? “Photographs can be evaluated not only by the photographers, editors or readers but by their subjects changes the power balance”, even when taking a digital image now, the model or subject can ask to see it and for it to be deleted. There’s no spontaneity. I like the comparison Ritchin makes when he uses Peter Plagens words, “19th century photography has been a means of self-expression” and then Ritchin says, “The next great photographs- if there are any- will have to find a way to reclaim photography’s special link to reality”. We all know the saying “The camera never lies” and this has been tested and argued over for years. Taking away and pre or post-manipulations, the camera, I would argue, could never lie. Everything in front of it is real, whether or not out brain chooses too believe it. It was Philip Jones Griffin who said, “The real problem with digital is there is no reason to believe photographs any more”.
So in conclusion this book gives your mind so many things to comprehend, photography has changed for better and for worse. We also need to realise how powerful the camera is, take Lewis Hines imagery of child labour in workhouses, it changed the public perception because they could physically see it an believe it, and even W.Egene Smith’s photographs of Maude Callen, which was then published in 1951 in Life magazine. People saw the images then donated so much money they could build a new state of the art clinic. I am personally excited to see how photography evolves into the next milestone, but I can guarantee that the true artist photographers out there will carry on creating such powerful photographs that the viewers will appreciate.
“If one can reach into the past why not photograph the future”