Tony is a writer, photographer and professional freestyle skateboarder from England. Since graduating from University College Falmouth in 2011 with a BA in English with Creative Writing, he has been helping to run a website that focuses on film photography called www.pdexposures.com. Here I asked him to comment on photography and it’s place in modern day culture.
It’s hard to write about photography these days. I should know; I’ve been doing this a while, but that’s the problem – so has everyone else. We’re drowning in a sea of images – and I don’t just mean the 350 million photos that get uploaded to Facebook every day (yes, 350 million. I’m not making that up.) See, we’re also being attacked by a barrage of writings on the subject; for every “artsy” photograph that appears on Flickr, there are three people having a conversation about it on Twitter, at least one Petapixel post about it, and a strangely self-contradictory review of it on Ken Rockwell’s blog. Even this subject – the democratisation of photography – has been written about so much that it’s passé to even mention it now. There’s no room for movement anymore.
However, the real problem with all of this is when a particular artistic avenue is completely explored to death, there are only two real escapes: one is regression: i.e. a return to previous values assumed lost, such as the move towards film photography and the somewhat puritanical attitude its users sometimes express. The other is to push further, to head into the avant-garde. This binary opposition of ideologies fights until a new norm is decided, till the process begins again.
But what happens to the aspiring writer, the fledgling critic, the voice lost in the crowd? As a photographer who has a writing degree to his name, it’s agonising to see the amount of half-baked, poorly-written dross that pass for writing in this democratised era of blogs and internet self-publishing. Some of the most internet-famous names in photographic blogging seem to lack a basic grasp on grammar, or fact checking (or even producing original work that aren’t entire rip offs from elsewhere) is a practice that was lost a long time ago.
At some point just after the turn of the millennium, I had an IT teacher say something to me that has remained stuck in my head. He proposed to me that we were heading towards a new Dark Age, caused not by the lack of information, but the flood of it. In this modern, populist world where everyone can have their say, where everyone can create, where the barriers to the photographic and writing practices (namely that of study, or time served as an assistant), have been removed by the accessibility of modern technology, there is an overwhelming abundance of content being created. True skill is lost amongst a sea of holiday photos, “selfies”, cat photos and lomography, and excellent criticism being left behind by the self-promoting blogger with more ego than craft. Worse, we’re beginning to prioritise cameras over craft; there have been more words put to metaphorical paper over the recent Nikon faux-retro D-whatever than the amazing story and recent work of Giles Duley, and that’s a ridiculous travesty.
As a typical leftie-artist-type, it pains me to say it, but maybe the freedom we craved will be our own undoing. Maybe what we need now isn’t more technology and more artists, but more editors and curators. But then who is really fit to make the decision as to what to publish and what to burn?