Photography is Dead. Long live photography…
Photography is everywhere. It’s in all of our lives and I could argue that the creative professional photographer, in some context, doesn’t exist any more. There’s less and less argument to say that one photographer or person who creates photographs is different than the next smartphone every day user. It wasn’t always this way.
I’m going to argue that wedding photography is the last truly authentic place for a photographer to create unique and meaningful photography.
Automation is upon us. Commercial photography libraries are now even offering an abundance of images for free (https://unsplash.com) offering a cornucopia of beautiful and incredible but generic photography for you to download and use all day long without the photographer getting paid. A veritable catalog of images that professional travel photographers would have made a living from in the past. There’s quite a lot of licensing info to understand, but in the end one can’t avoid the fact that created artistic photography is being devalued at an alarming rate.
Drone photography is so attainable now and the technology is so good that autonomous drones with 4K video capture can follow you around taking ‘selfies’ for you at any desired interval. It will come home to you when it needs some more juice, but otherwise there’e little operational interaction needed to record your every move.
You can wear a camera on your shirt to journal your life. It will even decide on which bits of your adventure were the most adventurous, and curate a sequence of your best bits for you. Your greatest hits.
Given the high quality of cameras and digital sensors, and the encroaching automation of artificial learning it won’t be too long until a person standing behind the camera to operate the shutter button won’t be necessary. Google recently published a research article detailing the use of intelligent computer learning to ‘capture’ professional quality landscape photographs from it’s street view product. It’s philosophically arguable if this is art or not, but it’s there and it’s happening.
Is it possible for a computer to make art or write poetry with feeling? With empathy? If a photographer is not needed any more to create visceral art, and art is an algorithm then what place can photography have in human connections?
The expense of and access to being able to make a photograph in the first instance is available to all. You can take high quality pictures from your smart phone. You can make 4k video from your smart phone. With a little bit of effort you can make and edit a movie and become a youtube vlogger. It’s relatively cheap to buy a high end professional camera. Photography is cheap.
But what’s the value of photography? When is ‘Good Enough’ enough?
Let’s say that you could buy a robot, or a drone, that you could tell to photography your wedding, and the robot, or the app, or the drone is relatively inexpensive. There is a possibility that the robot will be able to capture the event as it happens. Would you trust that your wedding could be captured this way? Would it be enough?
I don’t think so.
I genuinely think that wedding photography, and some portrait photography, perhaps more so than any other specialism, can’t be replaced by A.I.
I don’t believe that you can teach a computer to learn how to write a poem that is original, exhilarating, and heartfelt. I don’t believe that a computer can learn how to experience your complex emotional responses. Your human condition.
I recently happened to photograph two weddings back to back, and each Bride from each wedding had a hugely emotional story of loss and strength and dignity. Both had lost their mothers in different circumstances and at different times in their lives, and both had had powerful and unfathomable journeys in life to get to their very different weddings respectively. Both of those weddings were exhausting for me as a photographer of people. Sensitivities, through the ringer emotional landscapes, family tightness, and tears and laughter, along with pride, loss and energy. I came away from both of those weddings with a massive sense of respect and empowerment juxtaposed with an understanding of tenderness and fragility that I wasn’t necessarily expecting.
I don’t know what I was expecting.
There are three things that we can take away from my experiences:
1 – It was a human experience. I had to adapt to complex situations and draw on my own family and life, and embrace an emotional maturity beyond my experience too. I had to leave myself open to gently observe relationships and family dynamics so I could capture the smallest yet most significant moments between the people I was photographing. I found compassion and protection in surprising places and laughter amongst the tears. I had to react to the fibres of energy invisible to the universe, and I had to find in and amongst all of that, a humility in the story and an optimism for the future.
2 – A computer can’t know how changeable this situation is going to be and anticipate the timings of a fast paced and unpredictable wedding. If there’s a plan in place at any wedding it’s already shot to bits by the time the bride arrives at the church. How can a drone know where to stand when the full midday sun is beating down onto a courtyard during the drinks reception. How can a computer know that a grandparent really doesn’t need to walk up two flights of steps to get in to the picture? Maybe one day it can learn from studying a million typical wedding photographs, but then my point is that your wedding story is never going to be about last week’s wedding vows. It just can’t be anticipated how your human story is going to unfold, and how that’s going to feel.
3 – There really is no value in photography. What I mean by this is that you can’t put a price on a photograph of a look between a bride and groom, or an arm squeezed from a widowed father. It’s an incredible and heartbreaking privilege that I’ve had when I’ve been asked to print the photographs of a Bride with her father after he unexpectedly passed away some short months after the wedding. I know those pictures are incredibly heart wrenching, but also actually priceless, and unrepeatable.
Wedding photography probably seems expensive to some people, but I think it holds a unique importance in people’s lives. It’s not Facebook, it’s not Instagram, and it’s not a drone selfie. It’s not transient, and it should carry great meaning. The story of two people getting together and making that commitment always comes with character and personality and history. Sometimes there’s trauma, and sometimes there’s survival, and more often than not there’s a great deal of adventure. It’s always incredibly nuanced and it can be a fleeting moment in time.
Great photography is just that.
It’s about being in the moment and reacting. Making truly emotional connections with each other and with the world. Seeing and feeling it all with your eyes open and shut.
Believing it’s the truth, with humility and empathy.
I don’t think you can automate that.
I’d love to know what you think, so please do leave a comment below.