Reflections on Week Three

Photography and technology.

Of all the arts, there are two that are very closely linked to the development of technology: music and photography. Each can trace major developments to the availability of technological innovation.

The piano, the violin and the trumpet are all undeniably technological artifacts, complex devices made by specialists. The trumpet is a key tool in jazz. The electric guitar made heavy rock possible and digital synthesizers were essential for electronic and dance music.

Photography plots a similar course. Handheld rangefinder cameras made street photography possible. Single lens reflex cameras could be carried into war zones and used from a helicopter. Lightroom on a laptop computer replaces the purpose built darkroom.

Both photographers and musicians enjoy a ritual moment in acquiring new technology. I felt a sense of pride and maturity when I bought my first Olympus SLR, a sense of needing to be taken seriously. Musician friends spoke lovingly of playing a new Fender guitar for the first time. These are the tools of the experts, passed down from the manufacturing gods for our edification.

But the honeymoon doesn’t last long. There is work to be done and choices to be made. Are you going to be a covers band, turning out decent renditions of old favourites? Or are you going to be the innovator, the avant garde, an artist?

I don’t follow music forums, but I do dip into forums dedicated to photography. I see photographers posting images accompanied by the aperture and shutter speed used and the brand of flash gun they used. What does this matter? It’s only important that the image is correctly exposed. I suppose whether or not a flash was used is a useful piece of information, but the brand?

This suggests that I have made a choice. For me, it’s not the technology, it’s the image. I have the tools I need, now it’s time to put them to work. That seems to be the choice that other people on the MA have also made.

I realise that a love of photography, of making images, telling stories and conveying a feeling, is not the same as owning and using technology. Buy the tools you need, then make the work you love.