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May 3, 2012

Will technology be the death of photo art?

via Adam Monaghan

You don’t have to wander far in any major city before seeing a display of photographic art work. Whether it’s in a significant international museum or a small local coffee shop, people are always showing photos. But is it all really worth it? Frames cost money. Nice prints cost money. The ‘free’ wine at the Private View costs money. And self publishing? Forget about it! That costs real money! Whilst the major league artists will have all this laid on for them by the big galleries, will smaller artist-photographers want to keep promoting their work in this manner?

The Numbers Game

A quick comparison of numbers tells an important story. The most visited museum in the world, The Louvre, attracts around 8.5 millions people a year, a whopping three million more than it’s closest rival, The British Museum. But compare that to something like Flickr, which last summer clocked its 80 millionth unique user. Or Instagram which has over 30 million accounts. Now, however good the latte is at your local coffee shop, I’m guessing that’s a lot more traffic than they see in a lifetime!

via xevsurigio

Online Winner

There are now so many virtual galleries available and so many options on social networking sites for showing work, that it is easier than ever to get your work seen by new audiences. With links to links from friends of friends, there has never been more ways to have someone you don’t know on the other side of the world suddenly come face to face with an image that you have created. And that in itself is a very exciting thing.

Added to which, most sites can be freely used, endlessly modified, updated and, unlike exhibitions, are not only available to specific geographic locations for limited periods of time.

And unlike painting or sculpture, where interacting with the original boasts many obvious rewards, one could also argue that photography can easily be viewed online with only a marginal loss of experience.

So why would photographers still put on traditional shows?

Size Does Matter

However, good an online gallery may be, there is still something to be said for engaging with an ‘original’ photograph.

Size is very important for art works since it alters the way the object interacts with the viewer. A small image forces the viewer into an intimate relationship. You have to get up close to it to see it and by doing this your very physicality excludes others from seeing it. Gigantic images, on the other hand, are more public. They may shout out at you from a long way away, but they are also shouting to everyone else at the same time. Just by using these formats, you can make your photographs say different things.

Risks: Virtual vs. Financial

Many photographers are also, understandably, worried about losing an image to cyberspace or relinquishing their rights by posting it on certain sites. Consequently, most of those uploaded to online galleries are deliberately low resolution or watermarked – neither of which add to the viewing experience.

Self-Assessment is not always taxing

Crucially, for the photographer, there is also a point when it becomes necessary to look at their photographs in a certain context. Seeing them online is simply the same as seeing them on their desktop. But having beautiful prints, beautifully framed and displayed in ‘another’ space, allows them to step back from them and re-assess their merits and downfalls. It offers a valuable space for critique and introspection.

Staging exhibitions will always be expensive, limited and hard work but they still have their upsides and – fortunately – they are not dead quite yet.