Some mind-boggling statistics for you: In a single minute 216,000 photos are shared on Instagram. 8 Billion images have been uploaded to Flickr in the last 8 years, and Flickr’s only one (although arguably the best) of the photo sharing websites.
Are we close to Image Saturation point on the Web? The mainstream Digital Era is now about ten years old. Think ahead another ten years. On second thoughts – Don’t! You’ll give yourself a headache.
Instead, let’s go back a century and a half to the birth of Photography. Lady Eastlake, writing in 1857, described photography as ‘Specimens of a new mysterious Art’. She and others, particularly painters, sneered at it criticizing the new media for being a mechanical process for reproducing images and of no artistic value. But as we all know, over time, Photography did become accepted and respected.
It was the medium through which the population was able to view and explore the world for the first time as it truly was, and not as painters elected to show it with varying degrees of artistic licence. 160 years or so later there’s precious little in the world that hasn’t been captured on camera. In our life times the camera has been to the moon, we have seen our planet from space, and we have seen extraordinary images of the solar system and deep outer space from the Hubble telescope.
Almost everything has been photographed, and much of it millions of times over. There was a time when our holiday images were special, possibly in some instances unique. But if you go on holiday anywhere in the world today, you can walk into a bookshop or souvenir kiosk and buy a beautifully illustrated guide to your holiday resort, with page after page of ‘chocolate box’ photography where the sun always shines, (and when you look it’s the same on the Web). Maybe you look outside and it’s raining or the sky is grey, and you might justifiably think: ‘Why am I bothering to take pictures? I can’t improve on these. It’s all been done before, and better.’ Now that’s a very jaundiced view, I admit, and it’s a rhetorical question.
But behind any rhetoric there lies an essential truth. The Internet is becoming saturated with images from all over the world. Some stunning, some very competent, some mediocre and an awful lot that are simply banal. That’s what happens when a process becomes so easy and free. Anyone can upload an image. It’s a simple press of a button. If you tag your image, then search engines will find it. Google any significant resort, place or city and add the word ‘image’ and you will be presented with a huge gallery of images culled from the far corners of the Net.
Have you ever tried Googling your own images and Posts, out of curiosity?
Let me give you two personal examples to try out:
First – Google ‘New Monte Rosa Hut’ and add the word ‘Image’ to your search criteria and on the first page of a huge gallery of images presented to you, you will find at least one of my images. Yesterday I ran the query again and found four. That’s possibly how my Post – The Monte Rosa Hut Trail – has recently been found and referenced in an article on Sartor Resartus (an up-market designer of men’s attire for aesthetic expeditions). Click here to view the article, or click on the Post’s link above to see my original set of images. At left are two un-published images of the New Monte Rosa Hut, click on either image to see a higher quality enlargement.
Second – I noticed about a year ago that there were a hugely disproportionate number of hits on my Post ‘Switzerland’s Highest Mountain’. So, out of curiosity, I typed the search term ‘Switzerland’s highest mountain’ into Google and discovered that my post of that name was the top webpage entry after the Wikipedia entries. Such is the power of the Internet.
So – we can get noticed, but most of the time we probably don’t. It’s a tough world out there. How do we distinguish our photography from the huge vat of undistinguished but perfectly competent photography on the Web? There’s no doubt in my mind that our photography has to take some cognizance of the level of image saturation that there is out there on the Web?
We have to work harder to create images that command attention. We have to learn to stand out from the crowd. Just being competent is no longer good enough.
Jim Nix expressed this very well when he wrote: ‘we need to rise above the noise’. That’s a great way of putting it. If you haven’t yet discovered Jim’s work, you are missing some superbly shot and processed work from Jim’s travels around the world. Do visit his Blog – Nomadic Pursuits – you won’t be disappointed. Click the link.
If we love Photography and want it to survive as a Visual Art Form then we have to preach the gospel that it is an Art form and show, through our work, that it is a craft. And that has to bring us back to the concept of Learning to See. When we Learn to See we create images that can rise above the noise. If we don’t do that, then we will simply join the ranks of the Mediocre – and over time there is the risk that Photography will become dumbed down by the sheer weight of the mediocre or worse.
What’s your opinion? Join the debate and make a comment.
Nest week I’ll be posting an article exploring the concept of Personal Creativity.