A Huxleyan Outlook on Contemporary Photography

I think photography appeals to a certain breed of people. When I say appeals what I truly mean is the people who it latches onto, sticks like a briar to a shoelace. Photography released within me an almost addictive urge to capture memories, document daily life and minutiae that most other people wouldn’t think twice about.

To others like me out there, keepers of journals, ticket stubs and birthday cards – photography is a solution to the answer, “How do I remember all the beauty that I’ve seen?”

My husband has at times teased and called me a pack rat (while looking at me quizzically when I insist on keeping at least a hundred birthday cards from over my life). I’ll admit – I like to hold onto things. I like to remind myself of memories, mostly good, but sometimes sad. I like the raw emotion of life, I like to live it and to capture it.

Today’s society is more akin to my sensibilities than my husband’s.  With the onset of camera phones, affordable digital cameras, and the sheer infinite skyrocketing in popularity of photosharing apps and sites such as facebook, instagram, flickr, we’ve become an even more visual world. Often I worry that Huxley’s prediction of a society controlled by their love of the very technology that limits their capacity for thought has come and gone (perhaps with the advent of the iPhone?). We capture so much on these devices that we have to tell ourselves to stop and just enjoy the moment.

As a photographer I cannot very well say, “Just drop that camera! Enjoy the actual event.” I think pictures have a place in our lives. I’ve been a photo fanatic since I first held a camera in my hands. I took rolls of film in elementary school, and I encourage my children to do the same. Seeing life behind the lens gives you a different perspective on not just your subject – but yourself. As integral as I think pictures and documentation of our lives are, as enthusiastically as I love photography as an art and a way to express myself – I’m not thrilled with the way the craft is going.

Many people might be insulted by my use of the term ‘craft.’ To those of you out there who are horrified by my terminology because it brings up images of workers, rough jobs and yes – skills, I am not apologizing. Photography is an art, yes. But if you’re also making a living as a portrait or event photographer you know your art also comes with a set of proficiencies, and an education.

As I mentioned before the plethora of tools available to the most novice photographer (cheaper and cheaper DSLRs, image editing software and sharing sites) have all at once raised photography to a blinding fame and plummeted the use of any sort of technique.

It’s the old adage our teachers tried to hammer into us, quality not quantity. While the obsessive, (perhaps slightly compulsive) side to my personality demands I take a photo of that delicious five star meal I’m having, the actual photographer shakes her head a bit and insists that no matter what I photograph it should have some semblance of a quality shot. Sometimes the former wins, I’ll admit it. Sometimes you just want to post that blurry photo of your friend who lives 3,000 miles away that you only got to see once this year. And that’s fine – but that photo has no technique, it was all emotion without narrative.

There is a craft to photography, a measure of skill involved with taking consistently good photos. Photos that not only are crisp and clear and give us idea of the moment, but transport us for that blink of an eye into the excitement, the hilarity and the joy of life. Photography is more than the tools you use, it’s the heart and skill set you put into it. Some of that is innate, some of it comes with time and training, but it can’t be picked up in a polished box at Best Buy.

One of the first photos I ever took when I transitioned to a 35mm camera in 5th grade. My younger brother Robert, my favorite test subject.

A photo of my grandfather from 1996

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