OpEd: a disrupted future

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The current state of the world is a bleak but let’s be honest, unsurprising one. We have a disease to which nobody has any natural immunity; it is easily transmitted and highly infectious but not lethal enough to break the chain of transmission by itself (by killing off its hosts, like say Ebola or Marburg – both of which tend not to spread because there are no carriers left). In the past, the chain was broken by community isolation; travel was difficult or expensive and few went – certainly not if you were sick. Now, it seems everybody is a tourist – to the point that the lack of tourism probably has a bigger economic impact on most countries than domestic market shutdowns. Like most people around the world, I’m stuck at home on lockdown at least until the end of this month; tomorrow our (unelected*) government decides if we continue for longer or not. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of thinking time as there hasn’t been a whole lot to do between not being able to go out to photograph and the supply chain for the watch industry shutting down and everything effectively being on hold. Let’s examine a few scenarios and plan accordingly…

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The age of influencers

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Once upon a time, there was the internet. Then digital photography. Then user-generated content. Then high-turnover social media. Then the validation of one’s choices via social media kudos/likes/shares/comments/interactions. And then the snowball effect of the loudest person being heard and seen the most – and given instant credibility. And those without enough knowledge, conviction or confidence of their own heading into blind tailgating – enter the age of the influencer. Technically, an influencer is a person who is an opinion leader or tastemaker; ideally, their position is earned by the validity of their opinions through experience. Unfortunately, visibility or peer validation by other equally clueless people is now a frequent substitute for experience – and they’re really not the same thing. Historically, people whose opinions were heeded were valuable to brands because they could affect consumer buying behaviour. There is obviously commercial value in this, prompting more and more others to position themselves as ‘influencers’, too: but what happens when credibility is not only for sale, but appears to have more scale/ weight than legitimate experience? Enter my prediction for the next phase of social media: the death of the influencer.

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The concept of ‘visual weight’

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Heavy, but with light inside bits. Translation: transparency

I keep getting asked about this, and then remember I’d already covered it. Here goes the gentle reminder!

We acknowledge that every medium of expression has its strengths and limitations relative to others. Yet our basis for discussion and understanding of concepts and ideas is very much a written/spoken language-based one, this remains our benchmark – more so when the concepts become more complex and less intuitive – or the opposite, so simple and basic they’re entirely intuitive and not at all logical. There are of course severe limitations of language when it comes to describing the visual properties of expression and composition, yet it’s usually easy for us to see when something isn’t quite right. Why, how, and what do proportions, weight, balance, composition and aesthetics have to do with each other? Is there a somewhat more objective way to handle these concepts? I’m not certain, but today were going to try.

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The photographer as philosopher

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Some time ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader who posed an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?

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Why most images are compromised (or, so much for the decisive moment)

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Following the previous article and questions ensuing, I felt this earlier (read: probably forgotten) post would be a good explanation of just how much of a grey area the whole idea of a ‘decisive moment’ is…

A photograph is an observation of a scene at a given moment in time. It’s an effectively instantaneous snapshot of the state of a scene or person or other subject, given the relative rate of change of those subjects. If we extend the duration of observation – i.e. with a long shutter speed – we might see some hints at that change in the form of motion blur, or eventually, averaging. If we get lucky, or observe for a long period of time, we might eventually be able to capture an interesting change or temporary state of the system; however, this assumes two further things. Firstly, that we can differentiate what is ‘interesting’ and have a good benchmark of what to look for; secondly, that we are aware and responsive enough to capture it. I think we can already see why there are some serious challenges here.

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OT: A tale of two Porsches

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Earlier in the year, I opened discussion to the floor for suggestions around the quest for a different, tactile driving experience – a sort of cathartic break from the increasingly numb efficiency of modern cars. Most of the responses suggested that as usual, the answer was Miata; Miata is unfortunately not an easily accessible proposition in my country, and especially not a manual. For that matter, there are few manuals available outside the truly woeful econoboxes so bad that the dealers don’t even keep demo cars in stock (think the cheapest cars from the local manufacturers; so cheap that airbags and ABS are marketed as headline features). Needless to say, these did not prove to be pleasant motoring. What I did manage to find, at around the price of a new Honda Civic for the former, and a base 3-series for the latter – were two rather interesting Porsches.

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Two theories

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I promise today’s post is only slightly off topic and still legitimately relates to photography. It takes the form of two theories (or perhaps more accurately, hypotheses). They are somewhat related, and over the last few years have personally changed the way I perceive many aspects of both idea creation and business. First question, before we get into the philosophy: how do you interpret the title image? Is it hoarding, a meticulous collection, somebody making the most of their situation, a choice to live in a certain era, or something else?

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Automation in photography: two sides of the fence

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Over the last few years, I can’t help but feel a lot of the thinking has been shuffled higher up the chain – be it when driving or making images. Cameraphones probably epitomise this, especially the iPhone: photography has been simplified so thoroughly that actual parameters are completely removed from the equation, leaving ‘focus here’ and ‘brighter’ or ‘darker’. Everything else is decided by a series of logical algorithms that are aimed at one thing and one thing only: a ‘nice’ picture, acceptable in the opinions of the largest number of people. There are tradeoffs made that accommodate the needs of the widest possible market – which for the most part, isn’t the creative experimenter. Results are acceptable, punchy, and well, homogeneously bland in a sea of literally hundreds of millions of the same devices with the same limited control. Yes, some of that control is now coming back and some of the UIs are starting to show the strain of accommodating feature creep, negating the literal point-and-click simplicity that drew so many people to cameraphones in the first place (along with convenience and social media).

Choice, has been removed. Is it bad? Well, I’m honestly not sure and arguments in both directions follow – but would love to hear your opinions in the comments.

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The pricing game, redux

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In this kind of world, what am I actually worth?

Following on from an the previous post on understanding licensing, I thought it’d be instructive to also revisit the remaining elephant in the room for any photographer – especially newly-minted ones – is the question of how much to charge. Attached to that comes the mechanics of it all: invoicing, accounting, collecting payment, and the big one: licensing. Oddly, I find that this part of the business is something that seasoned pros are the most reticent to discuss; perhaps it’s part self-protectionism, perhaps it’s the cultural omerta towards money (at least in Southeast Asia, everybody seems to judge you by how much you earn, but to ask outright would be a major social faux pas*) or perhaps it’s because some of us are afraid to admit how little we’re actually charging.

*Nobody is likely to tell you the truth anyway; culturally, it’s like asking a lady her age in the West. It’s the age-old dilemma of one’s ego wanting to show their success, but simultaneously being afraid of being a target of jealousy. Whilst boastfulness is never a desirable trait, I think we need to be proud of our work and position as professionals and craftsmen – like every other form of social posturing, others tend to judge your implied relative value on external appearances.

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Visitations from the future, or new year’s resolutions, 2020 edition

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Greetings, Earthlings of history! I am writing this message whilst my self-flying car shuttles me from my robotised residential utopia to the free workingmen’s paradise, snacking occasionally on a nutrient pill washed down with soylent green. My technology is wireless, there is peace and love for all, and my jacket sleeves have rings – in this year’s fashion, with three stacked, of course. Our children will all be genetically perfect, and even we will live to 150 years. And…my photography is still meat-constrained. It might be 2020, arbitrary date far enough away (“out of our lifetime, and implementation details not our problem”) that peaceful utopia should have been achieved by now according to future-gazers of the past – but the reality is most of what constitutes ‘future’ or ‘new’ technology is merely the window dressing of entertainment, rather than the seeds of deep content. Why? Again, it’s meat-related.

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