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When photography was music

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I read a stat the other day from the Executive Chairman of Alphabet (formerly Google) Eric Schmidt that was remarkable and pretty fucking scary.

We now generate as much information every 2 days as was generated from the beginning of time until 2003. Every 2 days.

To be honest, my brain just starts singing comforting gospel numbers when I try and think about that. And then it explodes.

To make sense of it I have tried to think about it another way. Not in sheer volume but what it could mean for creativity.

While I was thinking about this, I started thinking about creative heroes of mine. One of them was a man called Ansel Adams.

He was a great American landscape photographer. Some of his landscapes of Yosemite set the benchmark for landscape photography for the next 100 years.

He would walk up a mountain with a massive camera. He would have the most delicate glass plates the size of an A4 piece of paper. If they broke or cracked, they were useless. When he got to the top he would paint the emulsion onto the glass using albumen (egg white). This was to take one photograph. And through this very difficult process, he discovered something that changed photography forever.

He wanted to get more detail in his photographs. He wanted detail in the shadows and the highlights. To do this he created an exposure system that today is called the zone system. It is based on the musical idea that you can sing a song in a different key. B flat or D minor etc. He used that to create the idea of exposing film to light in different keys. Music had changed photography beautifully forever.

I think about him and then I think about the millions of apps that let you easily take a picture today. I think about how hard it was for him to take a single photograph. And perhaps the fact that it was hard, made him better.

I realise that is a very romantic perhaps old fashioned idea. But I believe craft and dedication should always be part of the creative process. I also believe when things are very easy, you don’t have any need to push yourself beyond the average. 

We have made it easy to generate data. To capture an image is a very simple act. And then, you put a filter on it and you are a genius.

In Ansel Adam’s world, you needed time and dedication to take a photograph. The power was in the act. In our world, it is not about the act. The power lies in sharing. Do we care more about what others think, than what we think? And does it matter? If your friends don’t like it, relax, you can just post another one. Very little thinking is done. In the past, thinking is what created value. And it is also what made something last. Today, what seems important is not being able to last but being able to change, delete and replace.

I think this has created a modern world where there is such a volume of data, very little stands out or lasts. And if it does, it is replaced soon. Yesterday’s data was the Jonas brothers. Today, it’s One Direction.

Would The Rolling Stones have had the time and space to succeed in the modern world?

This is why curation is so powerful these days. With that much data, it has to be organised.

But organising data, is not the same as discovering something new. Discovering how music can be used to make photography better is not a disposable idea. You need more than a day or two to find ideas like that.

And by making creativity disposable and easy we may take many photographs of cappuccino’s. And this may generate a lot of data.

So much data, but perhaps, a little less discovery.

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7 thoughts on “When photography was music

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  6. “Such data, but perhaps, a little less discovery.”

    But the ability to make those discoveries is in the hands of so many more people. Look at all of the bedroom producers who are making records using software they downloaded off of the internet. Look at all the budding photographers who can now learn as much about light and composition in a day of taken (and deleted) iPhone photos as the photographer of yesterday could have in a year and at a far higher cost. We talk about the mass of data and useless updates about lunch that Twitter has generated, but it has also generated it’s own unique types of art and poetry.

    Yes, there might be a lot more pieces of crap. But there’s also a proportionately large amount of great art being made.

    The Rolling Stones might not have had the time and space to succeed in the modern world. But in their place today, we have hundreds of other bands and artists who have curated their own unique and passionate followings.

  7. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. It also affirms my inkling to get off social media at the risk of consuming more volume than quality.

    As a writer, there is something so transcendent about feeling thick paper between my fingers as I turn the page in a good book, or magazine. The irony is that I’ve found this provocative piece online…

    I miss when time dripped like honey and all I wanted was to lose myself in a substantial piece of work. The amount of information flitting in front of my eyes is drastically affecting my memory, and also my confidence in my own voice and aesthetic.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.

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