I had an idea a few weeks ago to conduct a little piece of research. The notion came about through a nagging feeling that, for all the pundits’ views on photography, we’re not quite grasping the scale of the revolution in image making and the repercussions for manufacturers and professionals alike. I wanted to find out what does the future hold? And who better to ask than the very people set to shape it?
It turns out I had been beaten to it by Nikon - I came across a paper commissioned by the company to coincide with the Photokina photography show in Cologne last September. Titled The Future Of Imaging Report, its stated objective is to “describe the future of imaging…in a social, cultural and technological landscape that is rapidly transforming how people capture, share and use imagery.” How true, and hats off to any manufacturer which acknowledges that the camera needs to become a whole lot smarter if it is indeed to remain a relevant tool, even if it remains to be seen whether they follow through.
However, The Future Of Imaging Report is based on a series of interviews with “executives, academics, authors, scientists, editors and thinkers”. I wanted to ask the direct opinions of people who are going to be the likely consumers and producers of imagery ten years down the line. What are they doing now? What are their aspirations and needs? What’s their view on photography and its challenges and what trends do they anticipate? Will they even consider owning a camera? So I presented these questions to a group of 15 - 22 year-olds, most with a keen interest in technology or the visual arts and the responses speak for themselves.
A big thank you to those who participated and offered their time and thoughts. Photography is here to stay… even if the way we go about it changes.
You can read The Future Of Imaging Report here
“Photography is more about making memories than making art.”
Beth is doing A-Levels, including Film Studies, at sixth form college and photography plays a big role in her social life, “For many girls, taking photos of getting ready is the main part of going out!” She has access to professional cameras in connection with her course work but admits to feeling a little out of her depth with these. “I’d love a proper camera but given the choice I’d rather spend money on having an amazing experience than the equipment to photograph it.” She is a prolific social photographer with her phone, or even friends’ phones if they’re to hand, recording friendships and memories over the last two years in an ambitious and ongoing photo-a-day project. She uploads these to Facebook as an annual album which she additionally prints on a home printer to turn into a giant collage for her bedroom. What of the future? “Social media will become a camera in itself, it’s a front - we can’t go back to how photography was when it was invented - it’s now about manipulation.”
“It would be amazing to take photos with a blink of the eye - with a kind of eye implant.”
Alice’s portfolio for her Art GCSE is full of studies of goldfish and carp, confidently portrayed in great washed strokes, water colours of the family’s whippet Perdy and a series of thoughtful portraits set against backgrounds of calligraphy and pages torn from novels. Among these are the course’s required photographic studies, laid out as contact sheets and all shot on her digital SLR camera, which she uses almost exclusively in connection with her art projects. “I think you have to work quite hard at photography - I like artistic photos with clever angles or composition.” The camera was left at home, however, during a school trip to Italy; “It’s a bit too valuable but in fact I was relieved not to have to carry it and worry about it all the time. I use my phone for general photography and friends anyway.” Her artfully crafted selfie portraits play a central role in this output and shape her vision of the future: “My ideal camera? Something like an eye floating above you, capturing not just the scene, but you in it as well.”
“There will be no difference in quality between phones and cameras and anyway, it’s about how fast you can share.”
The DSLR camera used for Matt’s movie-making has been temporarily shelved pending imminent GCSE exams. Aged 16, he is already on his way to becoming an accomplished film producer / director, winning the accolade of Best Director Under 21 two years in a row in the Winchester Short Film Festival and having his last short film selected for show in London. Matt uses his camera mostly to shoot video in connection with testing and setting up shots for his productions but when he turns his attention to stills he says he likes to do street photography. “Photography is incredibly important in this day and age - it has become a universal language for story-telling and conveying ideas. I’m wary of taking boring, clichéd photos but to do photography well is really tricky.” His fantasy equipment of choice would be an analogue movie film camera: “Film is a living memory; it’s more organic, looks better, is more tangible. Digital is so much more complicated.”
“Anybody can pick up a camera now and take photos. I think it’s no longer seen as an art form.”
Some of her fellow A-Level Photography students use their i-Phones for course work but Georgie perseveres with her DSLR, which she additionally uses to photograph nature and landscapes. “These cameras are a bit big and expensive - I’m not so interested in the gadgets and I don’t need all the features, which is why I use my phone a lot for day-to-day stuff, photographing friends.” Studying for the A-Level has made her thoughtful on the artistic merits of photography: “For photography to be considered art you need to have a concept, you have to know what you’re looking for in advance and then set about creating it. But most photos are taken to capture a moment rather than to create something.” Looking ahead, she sees technology helping to make photography even easier, “The equipment will become smaller, more smart-phone orientated. It won’t challenge the user, the camera will recognise the scene and do everything.”
“Photography is becoming all about creating and sharing stories.”
Another GCSE Art student, Laura is prolific in her photographic output, taking “lots” on her phone of “anything - friends, moments, memories - stuff that inspires, whether walking around the city or just in the garden.” She is keenly aware of a growing trend in visual story-telling through channels such as Instagram and Pinterest and where selfie portraits place the photographer at the centre of the action. “Photography is subjective - I might like a photo but actually the challenge is persuading others that it’s great. I think my enjoyment of it makes it easier; I’m more willing to experiment and persevere to get the right shot.” Laura foresees a merging of technology where cameras incorporate editing and sharing capability and where long-lasting batteries and miniaturisation will allow wearable, always-on capture. “If you’re serious about photography you’ll have a camera but smart phones will be used primarily by most people. Photography will be based around social media.”
“Professional photographers will continue to use SLR’s. For everyone else, phones will do it all.”
Henry, 22, is a Computer Science student at UCL taking a year out of his studies to spend time in the industry making apps and websites for small and medium businesses. His background in both the arts and technology has led to an equal appreciation of design and engineering alongside software development. “With technology, it’s important not to forget the human factors behind it.” He is a steady rather than prolific taker of photographs, using either a compact camera or phone to record one or two shots at a time of landmarks, places or social gatherings and nights out. “The value of photography in a social sense is reflected in the increasing amounts of photos that people take themselves and of themselves. People love photos.” Henry is also an enthusiastic user of Instagram. “As an art form, photography is easy to join in, hard to master. But with technology, the mastering part is getting easier.”
“Photography is a linear, accumulative process and loads of photos of sunsets are part and parcel of that.”
Emma has just started her degree in Human, Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge and reads deeply into my questions. She relies on a four-year old compact camera for her photography (uniquely among my interviewees, her phone is a Blackberry) although she is developing her interest with her mother’s recently bought DSLR. She is wary of the negative aspects of photography on social media and its potential to intrude. “For me photography is a personal recording, it’s a kind of memory hook.” Despite finding photography “paradoxically, really difficult” she enjoys looking out for street scenes, little details, or “something striking”. She has a particular fascination with the process that goes into making a photograph and the co-operation of her subjects to achieve an outcome: “I like to experiment with capture - I enjoy the novelty in the capture process itself.”