Skip to main content
April 16, 2012

Will mobile tech make us all pro photographers?

‘What? You mean you always carry a camera everywhere?’

 Such is the ubiquity of the camera-phone and the instantaneous reaction of wanting to record and share something, that today this looks like a massive non-statement, an utterance so obvious that it hardly registers. But here at Nokia Connects, we remember back in the nineties, when it was a pretty astonishing claim. Who on earth wanted to always carry a camera? 

via Adam Monaghan.

But then it all changed…

There are numerous knock on effects of the arrival of high-end camera-phones and the possibility of everyone being a photographer. Some of these are simply technology based; high-quality images from devices, which because of their size and multi-purpose mandate, are permanently with you. Add to this their immediate connectivity to the web and the rise of social media, which bypasses the historical problems of authorised dissemination and, voila, millions of images, instantly available.

Everyone’s a photographer

But this reality of ‘everyone’s -a-photographer’ has unhinged the photography industry to a point beyond recovery. Increasingly picture editors are asking: ‘Why should we pay a pro-photographer pro-rates when we can use a passer-by’s camera-phone photo for next to nothing’? What’s more, this idea that everyone is a photographer has offended many pro-photographers, but this is a dissatisfaction that places the profession of photography ahead of the medium of photography.

The evolution of media

In the past ten years, the average passer-by hasn’t been able to supply images for print, because the quality has rarely been up to the necessary standard. But as the industry moves away from printed paper and smartphones, like the Nokia 808 PureView, produce better and better images, this is set to change. All this sounds very negative for the industry and its effect is easily seen in the number of photographers now struggling for work.  Technology has done this before: think of the horror for illustrators when newspapers began running photographs. The test for photographers now is how to remain competitive.

How photography threatened art 

Since its invention, photography has had many dissenters from every conceivable side. Even once ‘accepted’ to a fine art status, it still had to defend itself and justify its position. Historically, part of this fight was because too many people still saw fine art in terms of painting.

But photography is not painting.

One of the least graspable elements of photography for art history is the very idea that anyone could take a great photograph. You need no training. You don’t need to have gone to the ‘right’ college. You don’t need to understand your materials. And this in itself is a major threat.

You don’t need to be an artist

Imagine the greatest photographs of the twentieth century; any one of the major agency images that flood our visual consciousness. There is always a chance that anyone could have taken that image. This is not to undermine the skills photographers have but rather an admittance that even someone who has never taken a photograph before could pick up a camera and take an amazing photograph – a situation obviously exacerbated by automatic camera functions. The notorious squirrel photo of 2009 that was captured by the automatic timer on the camera is a prime example. A great image, made purely by chance.

And this idea is pretty unique to photography since it is hard to imagine ‘getting lucky’ and carving a perfect marble statue at your first bash!

The “everyone’s-a-photographer’ generation

Some bemoan the rise of the ‘everyone’s-a-photographer’ generation, but this development has highlighted an intrinsic part of photography itself; something deeply rooted but tacitly hidden. And digital imagery forcing art history to re-think the way it addresses photography can only be a good thing. Although that may be of little solace to the pro-photographers out there, it’s great news for the hundreds of millions of people with a camera in their pocket.