Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Death Of Photography?

To offer up a little relief to the unending gloom of the title of this post, can I add that I started writing the below about 8 months back . . things have changed a bit for me since then - my creative juices are flowing and I am just trying to factor in some time to go out and make some new negatives and prints. I've tweaked the below a bit and realised that I can't cover all the bases and maybe haven't quite hit the nail on the head with what I wanted to say . . . but anyway, if it provides food for thought then great, and if not, well them's the breaks . . . anyway, here goes the Time Machine!

Hi Folks - it has been a strange time here at Sheephouse Turrets recently - I've done very little photography because I just haven't felt like it and also I've not had the time for it either, but the two have combined into forming this awful stasis of non-activity and a HUGE questioning of things, namely, and to-wit . . what is the point?
Or should I say:
"What The Eff Is The Effing Point?!!"
I don't know about you, but the world has undergone a transformation in the last 10 years - it's not the advancement of digital stuff (though that is the cause), it's not a general malaise with regard to the realisation that if we don't learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it ad infinitum (new Holy War/Crusade anyone?) - these things are big things, and mine seems so trite by comparison, but nevertheless, we have to comment on things that are having a direct effect on our lives, so what is affecting my life is this:
Life is now awash with imagery.
EVERYONE is a photographer.
Yep, no longer the domain of Dads' and Mums' and people who just liked seeing what light did when they pressed a button and Aunty Lou was there looking pretty in her Easter bonnet, nope, no more.
EVERYONE IS A PHOTOGRAPHER.
From your 2 year old with the their first phone (I kid you not - heard just recently) to reporters and shoppers and Neds and school kids and OAPs, bloody everyone has a phone with a camera on it and as such has a handle on my (our) hobby and passion . . .
And you know what?
It really hurts (he said, churlishly throwing his Nikon F2 out of the man-pram . . )

I (like you no doubt) see images every single minute of every single hour of every single day.
And they're not like the olde snapshot thing either, because it's become a piece of piss to make a billion images of your life very very quickly and thus EVERYTHING is now documented to the nth degree and posted online to an audience of 560 trillion excited viewers in milliseconds
No longer do you sit around with Charlie and Sue, grab a glass of wine, and laugh, yawn, look excited, enquire enthusiastically, pay attention when the newly printed envelope of holiday photos gets handed round.
There's no more groans of 
"Oh my God, what were you doing" 
No more
"I couldn't help it if that dog decided to have a pee on that tree trunk (hidden by your head) Darling."
Nope sadly those moments of angst and anticipation have been banished by the dreaded chimping and instant deletion of non-perfection.
You know I'm telling the truth don't you?
Of course you do.
An endless tide of samey/similar imagery swamping a world that really doesn't give a shit any more because it is so commonplace.
Thing is, I'm damn sure some of it would be passable documentary photography too, were it photography, but it isn't.
Why?
Because that isolation of a moment in time is no longer there.
We now have a broad stretch of imagery documenting every single fecking second, it's like watching a finely chopped-up film, and ultimately, though it might well be trying to make a point, it fails because the point is, there's no longer a point.
And I feel that. 
That hopelessness and pointlessness of the struggle.
My struggle.
It makes the spending of 20 minutes of my life setting up a LF camera, endlessly going through correct procedure, waiting for the moment, taking the moment, getting home, unloading the DDS's, and processing the exposed film on a single sheet basis seem so utterly arcane and foolish, that the whole enjoyment factor of the thought that:

I might 
(and yes, bear that in mind, it is a big might) 
somehow project this little moment of time 
(captured by a [big] little man on the East Coast of Scotland) 
forward into the future . . .
so that someone might look at it one day and say "Oh!", 
(rather than what I suspect is waiting for my stuff . . the skip at the end of the road) . . .

But my efforts and skills (sorry, the word 'craft' is now banned around here) are now rendered null and void by a tsunami of endless pixels.

If you were to turn what we all do (us amateurs) into an equation, it would be the worst equation in the history of equations:

Time + Energy + Money + Thought + Love = Skip

Think about it, it's true isn't it, pretty much.
With the ubiquitousness of the mobie and camera there's now a new equation on the block:

Life + All-Encompassing Machine + Thumb + Internet = Instant Immortality 

What's not to like? No wonder everyone is doing it. Like we used to sing at Barrantyne back in the 60's:

Everybody's doing it
Doing it
Doing it
Picking their nose
And Chewing it
Chewing it
Chewing it

I'm sure Mr. Irving Berlin would have loved that variation on his classic from a time of depravation and naivity, but needs must and all that - the transistor radio was just about filtering down to the masses back then, we had to make our own entertainment. You see, back in the day when film, though (comparatively) cheap, wasn't really something you could use willy-nilly simply because of the effort involved in dealing with it, photographs were taken to emphasise a point, the point being the subject and the isolation of it in time as a MEMORY adjunct.
The two went together like that famous Scottish East Coast heart attack in a container Chips and Cheese.
They were natural partners. 
Nowadays the emphasis of a point of time as a special memory has been nailed to a fecking Facebook  (sic . . ad infinitum) wall as an endless parade of utter inanity. You might well enjoy your chips and cheese, but I don't want to know about it.
And we as photographers are under attack. Actually we're not under attack, because the 'enemy' has over-run the barricades already and we're down to the nitty gritty of street fighting to make our skill and effort MEAN ANYTHING AT ALL.
If you can imagine the Planet of the Time Lords over-run by 11-Teen Billion Mr Blobbies, you'll get what I mean.
Jesus, if I see another selfie-stick, I'm going to snap it, and if I see someone 'filming' some pointless activity on a phone I'm gonna wheich their phone off them and smash it. It really feels personal.
Now I've got my gander up and going, if you're a film-maker how do you like the way the world is going? Yeah I thought so - for all the freedom phone filming has brought, it really makes your carefully edited and compiled Super 8 footage seem like a waste of time doesn't it.
I wasn't going to go off on a  tangent, but strangely happenstance works sometimes so here goes:
Last night, Ali and I watched a marvellous little hour of film-making called 'From Scotland With Love', though to these East Coast eyes it was more, 'From The West Of Scotland With Love', but never mind; it was Glasgow-centric, but then they've got all the artistes haven't they?


Anyway, the beauty of it was (and I've had a whole night's decent sleep to mull on this) the music (by Fife musician King Creosote) melded so beautifully with the footage as to make a sort of symphonic love story.
It was really very good and strangely moving in a way I can't quite describe. 
But what I can describe is that all the archive footage, carefully made and cannily shot and edited - because it was expensive to produce - has provided these (often very) short moments in time that emphasise that moment in time.
In the film, there's one tiny clip of a laughing woman being followed into her cottage by a sheep and it has stuck with me all night (and even months later) because it has all the grace of simple genius and beauty.
It's not hours of tracking shots of the sheep following the woman and how she's reacting, nor the consequences of the sheep's action; there's no over-egging the pudding of subject matter, because though the point is a small point, edited to emphasise that point, somehow the point becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Brevity encourages questions:

Where is this crazy place?
Who is the laughing woman and why doesn't she mind being followed by a sheep?
How long ago was this?
Who filmed it and why?
Etc etc etc . . .

See what I mean? And it's like that with photographs, or rather it used to be like that with some photographs.
The object became the memory, or even the portal into memory. 
That's an important thing.
F'rinstance:




OK - once you get over the mass expanse of white sky (it was a foggy day) you'll notice there's a chap with a cat, on a lead, in a lay-by, in what looks like the middle of nowhere.
You see what I mean, the definition of that moment in time as a photograph has already brought up some interesting questions, like:

Why is the cat on the lead?
Who is the man?
Where are they?

Well, that's easy it's my Dad, Sheephouse Senior!
The year?
1974!
How the feck do I know that?
Simple, it's an Ektachome slide - they printed the month and year they were processed on the hairy cardboard mounts!
Who's the cat?
Cookie!
Why is she on a lead?
To stop her running off whilst we stop in a lay-by on the journey from Scotland back to Londinium!
OK - what happened next?
Well, after I'd taken the photo (a precious moment, this was a Kodak Instamatic, it was an honour and a privilege) Cookie wanted to explore further so I let her. She started climbing a bank towards some trees, so naturally I let her have her way . . . . and then she slipped the lead and was off! I gave chase up the bank, but found the going (all loam and leaves) difficult. I struggled up to near where she had settled herself to watch my efforts and then I shouted in horror as the banking gave way underneath me and sent me tumbling back towards the road. Now in memory it was quite a tumble, but it probably wasn't. However what I do know is that the white cricket trousers I was wearing (don't ask alright, just don't ask) were now a reddy-brown-mud colour and soaked.
Dad had checked I was alright and went and fetched Cookie and after (no doubt) some tea from the flask and probably a whole cake, I felt a lot better and we proceeded on our way.

And whilst I'm not saying a photo taken of the same sort of thing on a phone isn't valid, I don't know, the sheer perfection and ease (to my mind) don't really encourage you to enquire further . . . photos shot on phones are almost too perfect.
I've become like the rest of the world; I see one, I glance and I move on.

I have become complacent to something quite remarkable - the freezing of time.

Look at the slide again - my long dead father is frozen in time. I look; I am moved; the hole his death left in my life has never been filled some 40-odd years later.
Cookie the cat too, we were friends from when I was 11 till I left home. She was called Cookie because she'd originally been owned by some American relations of a friend of my Dad who were returning to Ohio. I loved that cat.
And those endless trips from London to Scotland for holidays or maintainence of the cottage before Mum and Dad retired and we moved permanently.

ALL OF THAT from one fuzzy, stored away, cardboard-edged memory. Shit, its quite something isn't it.

When the iPhone 7 looks as antiquated as a fixed to the wall "Whitehall 210" wind-up phone from the early 20th Century, that piece of hairy cardboard and plastic and dyes could probably still be around.
Will Facebook walls housing years of memories still be there?
Will Instagram exist?
Will JPG's still be readable or more likely, will the hardware they are stored on still be connectable?
Will your digital life be being held to ransom by Mega-Greed Inc. who now run the world's servers and want a monthly fee?
See what I mean. It's hard to imagine isn't it.
It's almost like we're rushing towards the precipice.
Technology for technology's sake has made everyone a photographer and film maker and director and producer. It has made what us amateurs do seem so utterly antiquated in the same way that MIDI technology for keyboards in the early 1980's made everyone chuck their old, unpredictable Moogs into the skip.

So I suppose, as a traditionalist (and thinking about it a bit) using those materials that are still around, well, maybe my efforts haven't been rendered pointless.
What do you think with regard to your own efforts?

Is photography still alive or are we lumped under the massed banner of imagery? To my mind it sort of looks like the latter - as mankind stands at this time, our photographs seem irrelevant to everything save the efforts and love that goes into producing them. But maybe history will prove me wrong. Maybe somewhere down the line, some being will pick a soggy, scratched bit of card and plastic and colour and light from the rubble of the 21st Century and say to themselves "Why is that feline on a leash?"

Sad isn't it - we may not have been rendered pointless just yet, but we've been emasculated. Our collective nadgers (or cojones if you like) have been chopped off and nailed to a Facebook wall.
Don't despair though, all I can do is shout encouragement from this barricade and encourage you all to do the same.
So go on, you over there, behind that wall, shout it loud:

"I'm a photographer! I'm Arcane And I'm Proud."