Would a publication like LIFE be successful today? The editors at LIFE decided to put photography first and text second in order To explain world around us via photography. LIFE’s magazine decision to give prominence to photography worked in a world were photographs, at least compared to today, were scarce.
Worldwide events were seldom photographed and if they were, only by a handful of professional photographers. Even if amateurs had captured some images, it was extremely hard, if not impossible to make them reach the desks of editors in New York.
Photography had a discovery aspect. People were shown images of places or events that they had only previously just heard or read about, if at all.
Today there are images of everything everywhere all the time. Not only on TV and magazines, but also everywhere on the internet. It is really easy to find photographs of anything at anytime. When a ship sinks off the coast of Italy, you no longer have to wait a week to see images. They will appear on your desktop within hours, via Facebook, twitter, an email, your favourite news site or just a friend sending you a link. It is, actually, harder to avoid seeing images.
Let’s say that, for some reason, you didn’t want to see any images of the sunken cruise ship. It would have been really hard unless if you had decided to close your eyes for a week or two.
The balance has shifted. Whereby you had to seek images, today, there is no way to escape them.
What is the result? Photography is killing photography. The sheer volume of available images is drowning photography. It is suffocating itself.
Let’s take the Arab spring for example. Started in Tunisia, the first images fascinated us. Here we witness a population rising against the despair of their lives, take arms and topple a long lasting dictatorship. Whether from professionals or amateurs, we were witnessing something rare.
Then came Egypt. Again, we were captivated by the sheer power of a population taking extreme risk in order to control their destiny. Here, more than Tunisia, we were flooded with images, both from pro and amateur. Because of the size of the country, the ease of access and its sequential aspect, there were more images from Egypt than Tunisia.
And then Yemen. And Bahrain. It became too much. We got flooded by images of people in the streets. It became hard to differentiate the country. Tunisia succeeded, Egypt succeeded, and Libya became a battlefront. That was more than we can absorb. Back to Kardashian.
Today, because of this flood, we seem not to care about Syria. Mostly because we are tired of the images. Too many. Too similar.
In other words; The cacophony of images of the Arab spring has killed our interest. Like too much candies.
And it’s the same with everything like that. The first images are interesting, the other gazillions, not so much. The rest become almost repulsive.
It’s not about to change. There is no reason why it should. In fact, if anything, as the world gets more cameras enabled devices and internet connections, the more we will get flooded.
Photography is victim of its own success. And it’s not just in news photography. Stock imagery, with its million of images available, is even worse. There are more images of businessmen shaking hands then there are businesses or even deals in the world.
Anything, in volume, loses its impact. And its purpose.
In order to be remain relevant, a photographer today has to do much more now than what was ever required previously. It is not about getting the shot anymore, it’s about continuously supplying the market until it gets overwhelmed and does not look anymore. It has become a game of saturation where the winner has the most images published even if not always the best. The result is audience saturation.
Will photography survive? Sure, because there will always be those great images that we all love and stand out. But it will be harder and harder to find them.
About the author
This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians” Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.
Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog