I had an angry comment on my YouTube channel recently. I shouldn’t be too worried, because out of over 3m million hits, one testy one isn’t too bad. Nonetheless, for some reason, in my mind one criticism needs 1,000 pats on the back to balance it. Plus, as with many arguments, if expressed with more thought and less emotion it would actually merit some consideration.
I had published a tutorial on how to use new function on a Panasonic Micro four Thirds camera. Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that all new technology should sound like magic and this does. It is called 4K Photo and it is a blend of video and stills. Essentially, you shoot a video at 30 frames per second but unlike movies, you can extract stills from those 30 frames per second with still picture quality. Its cleverest implementation is called 4k Pre-Burst.
When you press the shutter, it saves the 30 frames from the second before you press the shutter as well as the 30 frames after. It sounds like Clarke’s magic but actually it is straightforward. When you first press the shutter release, the camera shoots 30 frames per second continuously until you press it again. On pressing the shutter the second time, it continues at 30 frames per second for one second and then stops, discards all the frames except the 30 shot immediately before and after you press the shutter button and saves them all.
What it means is that Cartier-Bresson’s iconic decisive moment, the moment in time that sums up the situation, the holy grail of decades of photographers’ efforts becomes not The Decisive Moment (note the caps, denoting importance, gravity, artistry, perception) but the decisive couple of seconds (note the lower case, meaning, yeah, ok, wa’ever, I’ll choose it later, a’wight?).
And that’s what had made my correspondent angry. By showing someone how to do it, I was somehow advocating it. That was why he was unsubscribing angrily from my channel. I was traducing his art. Every real photographer’s art. I was teaching ordinary photographers a way to bypass the years of love, care, experience, learning, the honing of perception and reaction that he had undergone.Was I? I’m a simple soul. I just thought this was a clever bit of technology that might be useful in some areas of photography. Period.
Which begs an interesting question. If I show you an interesting or artistic picture, basically a good photograph, does it matter how I got it? Does it have a warmer glow because I had to slave for it? If I extracted it from a video but told you I captured the moment by instinct, would it look any different to you? Those are the anarchic and unanswerable questions that Andy Warhol was asking when he would have other people make his art in a factory. He’d even stamp it ‘This is not a genuine Warhol’.
As a professional freelance photographer living by selling his work for many years, I can genuinely say that I would co-opt any new technology as soon as it came out. The object is to get a picture and sell it. I have yet to meet a picture editor who gave a damn how a picture was made (so long as it was legal!) When Nikon came out with their motor drive back for the Nikon F in the 60s, photographing sport changed. When a racing car left the track before, you had one chance of a picture. After the motor drive, you pressed the button as soon as you saw the car going off and followed it to the impact, capturing it all.
It is de-skilling, really. In those days, though, only the professionals could afford such things so there wasn’t an outcry about de-skilling, that this was not real photography. Now, in the digital world, a camera that can be bought for half the cost of a good mobile phone can shoot as fast those motor driven Nikons, And a modern Panasonic can shoot 6 times faster, for tens of minutes. Just record it all and if there is a decisive moment, find it later. Warhol, of course would have had an assistant find it and then scribbled on the back of the print that ‘this was not the decisive moment’.
I sense that part of the anger of my correspondent was that 4k Photo meant anyone could do what he had spent years learning to do. His unsubscribing from me because I had explained how you did it was a bit like the church’s objection to the Latin bible being translated into English in the early 15th century. His bible, his photography, was for initiates who knew how to appreciate it. Not for the great unwashed.
I don’t think he need have worried. I have always thought that the art of the photographer had more in common with the art of a novelist than a painter. It is about observation, understanding and interpretation. The fast sequence camera records the images but it doesn’t provide the understanding or interpretation.
In essence, watching a scene unfold and selecting a decisive moment from it to photograph is little different from watching a video of it and picking out the decisive moment from that. What is rare is the sensitivity to watch something and see its significance and the moment that encapsulates it. A 4k Photo Setting can’t do that. That is what the photographer, my angry friend does.
He’s not threatened and angered by the technology. He feels threatened because the technical skill is being taken (has been taken) out of photography and more people might be good at it then he would like. Now Mr and Ms Everyone has access to his altar of photography.
Maybe we are approaching a new era of still photography where it starts to meld with its movie counterpart. The movie editor is a crucial part of the video/ cine process. Hours and hours of footage are shot. The salient parts are taken out and made into the movie. The cameraman and the editor are on equal footing in this process.
Soon we will have a generation who have only ever owned a camera where a press of one button produces a still and another a movie. The two image making disciplines will start to coalesce under the umbrella name of – yes photography. Stills will become movies that don’t move and movies stills that do. I can’t say I feel entirely comfortable with the idea but I will embrace it. What’s the choice? Actually, I’ll enjoy it. New ideas, new techniques, bring ’em on!
At that point my angry friend will become very angry with me indeed. I will have sold out unconditionally to the uninitiated and the unskilled. He does though, have one great advantage over me.
Because while he can unsubscribe from me, I can’t.