Why did it take us a decade to see that it was in decline? The rise of digital photography in the last decade was surprising, but it also seemed to come against the backdrop of a long-standing increase in the proportion of digital photos of people and structures that were of interest to us.
The rise of digital photography didn’t just change our use of it; we also changed the way we perceive its power and its social meaning. For some people, digital cameras are synonymous with novelty, and a moment or two of photography is all we need to get a sense of what’s possible (see the cover of my book, What Is Photography?: The Changing Meaning of Art?, for example). When we were young, digital cameras were often associated with the fun and adventurous side of life, with “high-tech” photographs of people in strange places. Now it seems digital photography is linked to social anxiety as much as a desire for adventure, and the desire to show the world, a world, to be seen. It seems that we are now in a cycle where digital photography is used to show things that people want to see, and people who want to see things that can’t be seen yet, but then, as an emerging technology, becomes all the more powerful as it becomes a more mainstream experience.
At the beginning of a decade, my own interest in photography was mainly rooted in photography as a hobby and as a social activity, but I’ve now become interested in the wider context of photography. I’ve long been interested in social media and the social contexts of the images that we share online, in particular in the context of politics and culture, and I think that there are all sorts of new ways that photography has become connected to politics, or more general social concerns.
Let’s start with the biggest one right now: the internet. Digital cameras have made photography accessible for a whole culture who have never before been able to experience photography as such. This was always a possibility, but perhaps at the beginning of the millennium photography was already becoming more than digital photography, and this was something we were noticing.
It’s hard to know exactly where we are in that development. I’ve seen evidence that digital photography is now seen as a medium to show images of nature, as a type of archive of images of nature, and for people engaged in the environment to show their work in ways that were not previously possible. We also see on the internet the possibility of making political use of images and images of political engagement, as they
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