As far as acceptance as an artform is concerned, photography has always faced roadblocks. Right from the early years, as told in the documentary The Genius of Photography, the world of fine arts was quite dismissive of photography as an art form, regarded as too commercialized by the likes of Edgar Degas and other prominent artists of the era. The matter certainly wasn’t helped by the advent of the Kodak, the first camera that successfully introduced photography to the masses.
Perhaps these were the first times the world bore witness to a multitude of uninspired frames, where sometimes even well-composed shots somehow had no soul, so to speak. But thanks to the efforts of some of the greatest names in the field during extraordinary times, photography would eventually prove itself capable of being a humanistic, rather than a mechanistic medium, and finally gain acceptance as an artform, even if bestowed a bit begrudgingly by some circles .
The next revolutionary move Kodak made was the introduction of Kodachrome in 1935. While colored photographs already existed beforehand, Kodachrome allowed for the medium to be available to the masses. Color photography inflicted a major impact in popular culture. Paul Simon tells a good story of it through his song of the same name.
While hailed by many supporters, the proliferation of color photography also had its share of skeptics, which included none other than one of the greatest landscape photographers of all time himself, Ansel Adams. According to him, color can be a distraction, which is perhaps true in some instances. But at the same time, he conceded that color photography during his era was still at its infancy and it may as well be where the future is headed. He was right.
Technological advancements boomed in the latter half of the twentieth century, carrying over to the present. The iconic representation of all this is, of course, digital photography. Kodak is, once again, credited as one of the pioneers in the field by coming out with one of the first functional digital camera in 1975. But it would take more than a decade before a bonafide production digital camera finally got out to the market.
With a potential market now numbering in the billions, it would only be a matter of time before it took over the world. But, as you might have expected, there was a healthy number of holdovers in film photography. There was even a minor renaissance of sorts that made use of quirky cameras like the Lomo, Holga or Polaroid. Sentiments like digital made things too easy and didn’t have soul as with film persist to this day.
In any case digital technology also marked the end of an era where photographs could still command a certain aura of exclusivity, much like a painting. Practically gone are the days of producing new one-of-a-kind photographs.
I’m sure you have, by now, noticed a pattern here. And again, as was before, it was only a matter of time when the digital medium decisively established its dominance in the world of photography — a transition punctuated by the stopping of the production of Kodachrome. Kodak’s itself danced with bankruptcy as revenue from selling film took a steep dive and competing in the digital market proved to be difficult for them.
Make no mistake about it. Post processing has been around for a long time. It only became much much more accessible with the advent of digital images. The truth is that applications, such as Adobe Photoshop is a godsend providing all sorts of possibilities to photographers and other visual artists, as well as the ability to do so with great speed. But again, post processing, or the more colloquial photoshopping had its fair share of detractors. Even among digital photographers, there are those who prefer to cling to the purist approach of refusing to do any editing of their pictures. And it can be hard to blame them, when these days, photoshopping has become the norm in mass media publishing.
On the other hand, equally annoying are the people who don’t bother editing their photos when they actually need to. They just dump the entire content of their memory cards somewhere like Facebook and forget about it. That is why it is common to see an vacation album in somebody’s profile with 300 pictures and you’d be lucky to see five good pictures in it.
Either way, it is hard to argue against the insinuation that the proportion of meaningful photographs has unavoidably taken a nosedive.
What the future holds
Technological advancements have not, and probably will never stop. Photography continues to become more accessible and more convenient. What that means as we move forward is not particularly certain. But whatever new and exciting innovation that will come along, we can bet that it will continue this cycle of resistance and acceptance.