I live in New York, and as such, I am a privileged human being. Because the island of Manhattan is so crowded, it is mostly occupied with tall buildings closely built together. That means that either from the street, or from another building, it is almost impossible not to see into the living room of someone you will probably never meet. If you add that night falls early in winters, after around 4 p.m. ( although we are at the same longitude as Spain where it is light late in evening, riddle me that Elmo), you get an even better view of peoples’ dwellings.
Why do I mention that ? Because it has astonished me recently how many of the these places are equipped with TV sets the size of a truck. Big black rectangular mass attached to the walls, beaming myriads of electrons in faces a 1/10 of their size. These 30/40/50 inches screens, although still over $1000 a piece, seem to have taken over entire walls where before books or pictures used to dominate.
Now, I know New York is special but I also do know human beings’ passion for their TV. It is not a luxury but a necessity, sometimes more important then food or clothes. I can imagine that this phenomena is worldwide. The interesting part, as I had mentioned before, is that none of the 100 + channels we all receive these days have any programs that take full advantage of these huge screens. Rather, they simply rebroadcast the same shows, under the HD label, just adding a few pixels here and there. You buy a very expensive item just to see the same talking heads, except you get to see their pimples much better.
In the US, most TV programming is delivered via cable or satellite. The same connection most city dwellers use for their internet connections. We see more and more TV channels referring to their websites, to a point that is gets revolting. Everyone knows that the merging of TV and internet is very, very close. You will go from TV shows to websites from the comfort of your sofa and quite frankly, you will not see the difference. Internet on TV is still very much unused for now, as TV screen quality, up to now, have been subpar to computer screens and cannot display computer generated text as well as the screen you are currently reading this. But this is about to change.
What does all this have to do with photography ? Hold on, I am getting there. In the late 80’s, a visionary software maker had an intriguing vision. He said that soon everyone will have big LCD panels in their house and they will need content to fill them. His name was Bill Gates and he soon created a company to fulfill this vision. After the 80, the 90 and the next millennium came and no one had any panels, beside Gates himself. Corbis couldn’t wait and decided to license photograph the old fashion way. We all know the result.
Today, a lot of people have those plasma/LCD panels. When the TV is not on, they look like someone decided to put the rock of “2001: a space odyssey” on everyone’s wall. Ominous but quite boring. These sets are all plugged in cable or satellite, remember? Parallel to that, a whole industry has risen building and selling these digital photo frame. You stick a card or better yet, hook it up to a wireless connection, and you get to see a slideshow on a rinky-dinky 7 inches screen. Finally, if you walk into the reception area of any big to medium photo agency these days, you will have at least one of these big screen projecting a slideshow of their best images. All these could be easily merged.
See where I am going with this ? If we follow the trend in publishing, which is going to be almost fully digital very soon, to the consumers being already equipped to receive extreme size images at home, we will soon see photographs appearing on people’s wall at the size of a desk. Furthermore, unlike print, a screen is luminescent. That is, instead of looking at a sun on a print that only reflects the light around you, it will will actually be a sun lit up. Very much like those slides we would look at when they were projected on a wall. At ten times the size and resolution !! You cannot demand a better way to view a photograph.
The quality of detail that one will be able to get along with the vibrance of colors will be amazing. photo editors of these new ?view on your big screen LCD/Plasma TV ? publications will have a field day. You add sound and you will have the most incredible photographic experience ever seen.
It will not take long for this to happen and wether through online publications or direct subscriptions to photo banks, more and more photographs will be seen on big home screens. Since the quality of digital cameras is growing at the same speed, there is no telling how much details, richness, depth,dynamic range these images will have. Forget the boring four colors magazines currently mix to make an image. This is millions and millions of colors with infinite variations.
The only issue for editors and photographers, at least at first, is that these screens are currently stubbornly rectangular. Photography loves the vertical ( magazines and website mostly print verticals these days) and displaying a vertical on a very rectangular screen will be a bit disappointing. But, and if manufacturers see a market, there is no reason for them to keep that shape. One could imagine a big square screen that could fit a whole wall. You could play video games ( I am sure they can use a square screen too), watch movies, or see and read magazines that could use some or the whole available space.
All this long post to say that photography still has a long way to go before it matures into adulthood. What you are looking today is still its baby steps and a fraction of what it will be able to achieve in the near, very near future.