Let’s talk about photography for a while. Not about how to take pictures or how to sell them, but just about photography. There has been a lot said and written about it in the last hundred years, and every attempt to define it in simple terms has failed. Why? Mostly because it has so many facets and usages that it is incredibly challenging, if not impossible, to make it fit in one definition. Also, which is probably the most important reason, it keeps on evolving, and what was right a while back is challenged by new usages.
Photography, while being more than a hundred years old, is still in its infancy. It is as much a new medium today as the day it was born. Without a clear and defined path to adulthood, it is being defined as it grows. We do know where it has been, we hardly know where it is going.
Who would have predicted, even a decade ago, that one of the most popular practices of photography would be via a tool that takes a picture only to see it permanently deleted within seconds of being seen ( Snapchat)? Or that some of the most popular websites would be almost entirely made of photography (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest )?
Who would have been able to predict that even the tools that allow us to create photographs would continue to evolve faster than we can get accustomed to? Who would have predicted that the majority of images we would consume would be on a mobile, portable device?
There are probably even more innovations to come in the next 10 years then those we have experienced in the last 20. If anything, the pace is accelerating. The only certitude we have is that we cannot, at least not yet, define photography.
What we can do, however, is take lessons from its evolution and try to corner a partial definition. The way photography is evolving is giving us strong hints on what photography is, or what it is shaping to become. One aspect that has remained unchanged since its birth has been its core attribute of sharing.
Photographs are created to be shared. Whether it is a family event, a war, a landscape, a sport final, a hole in a pipe, a second-hand car, traces in the snow, a cappuccino, every single photograph that is created is made with the core intention to be shared.
The question then becomes, why? Why do we feel the necessity to capture a moment and share it and not others?
Significance is the answer here. We see a significance in that moment we capture, and that is what we want to share. Not the image itself but the significance of the moment. What it means to us.The cappuccino, the family event, the war, the sports final means something to us that we want to share with others. And that significance comes charged with emotions: happiness, sadness, concern, pride, loneliness, thirst, hunger, anger, and every possible facet of our emotional spectrum.
Thus by sharing our significant images, we want to share the related emotions.
In other words, we are attempting to transfer energy: The energy we felt when we took the picture. The same one that made us take the picture. We want to share the energy we felt when we took the picture, and the photograph is what allows us to transfer it to others.
We do the same with pictures that are not our own but share anyways. All those Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, and twitter posts that contain other’s photographs are shared because we want to transfer the energy we felt when we initially saw them. It made us laugh; therefore, it will make you laugh. It made us cry, clinch, think, and we expect you to react the same way. Energy transfer.
Every photograph that we take, and ultimately share, is that energy transfer. We use photography to communicate and pass along the energy we originally felt. Great pictures do this exceptionally well ( think of the classics). Others might need additional insider information to be able to achieve their purpose (context). But all play the same role.
With that in mind, it becomes much simpler to understand where photography is heading. More and more, we are seeking to find ways to better serve this need, either via the refinement of our capturing devices or the development of our sharing platforms. Both stand to enhance how precisely we can transfer that energy.
Like written language, we all have a style we use to express that energy, which is core to our personalities. We thus use the tools at our disposal to enhance our transfer, whether it is filters, camera bodies, lenses, composition or even platform, paper support, and even framing. Like written language, there are multiple ways to express our feelings.
This energy transfer is well known in the marketing world. Advertisement often uses canned archetypes to purposely provoke the viewer’s wanted emotions, pulling on known levers. It also, very often, use already charged photography to enhance their messaging, piggybacking on an already existing energy transfer. Finally, it is what powers the vitality of an image.
While we continue to try and define what photography is, photography continues to define who we are. It is essential to understand its role in our communication protocols. It has established itself as a critical fiber of the human social network, transferring energy from one human being to another beyond both space and time.