Came across some interesting data on photography today. With the advent of digital “see it now” technology and the “instant gratification” ideas in today’s young Generation Y’s, people in Australia, for example, take 206 million photos a week to document their lives – about nine each, averaged out across the 23 million population.
This does not totally surprise me. I was sent two images – an astronaut in his space suit and a young woman taking a ‘selfie’. The captions were the interesting part. Under the astronaut was “Went to the moon. Took five photographs.” Under the young woman was “Went to the bathroom. Took 27 photos.” Unfortunately that is just so true. Narcissism reigns supreme these days.
Included in the statistics from Canon Australia’s March research report are findings that 63 percent of us feel we see too many photographic images in a day to remember, and 65 percent of us are annoyed by the number of trivial shots bombarding our social media feeds: foot selfies on the sand, hundreds of blurry pics from a big night out, and of course, cats.
A trend analyst, called Michelle Newton, describes this image overload phenomenon as ‘photo fatigue’, a consequence of our hyper-documentation of our lives. (Much of which I must say is non-edifying.)
“The focus on life-logging has left many of us searching for new authenticity and meaning in our lives,” she says.
Lisa Wilkinson, an Australian TV presenter selected by Canon, believes we may have lost the mystery of working on photographic film (we all did our apprenticeship with ‘dip and dunk’ trays in the darkroom), but digital photography opens up new possibilities. “It’s a wonderful thing to take a photograph that means something. It’s something we all used to do back in the days when patience was part of our daily existence – never more so than when taking a photograph. We used to get 12 or 24 goes at it. You took the photo and you didn’t know until the film came back from the photo-processing lab whether you got it or not.” Completely true, a message I have been carrying in my wheelbarrow for many years.
So how do we turn the tide on the taking of meaningless photographs such as foot ‘selfies’? Canon has an idea worth looking at. In response to photo fatigue, Canon has launched #CanonShine, a platform to focus on powerful, meaningful photography. A content-generated advertising ploy that might help the company sell more cameras, but it might also be regarded as an initiative to make us think about the quality of our visual records.
Jason McLean, Canon Australia’s director of consumer imaging, says the research suggests being flooded by mundane images means impact is being lost in the deluge. “There’s nothing wrong with taking a lot of images but of all of those, how many would you put on your wall?’’ he says. “We want images that make people stop; iconic images that tell a story that make people want to find out a little more about something.”
For TV presenter Wilkinson, her iconic images were of breast cancer survivor Marina McDonald whose portrait was taken seated and semi-nude showing the scars of her double mastectomy, and incidentally the fact that she was alive, surviving and proud of her struggle.
The key to these photographs is the phrase “tell a story”. I have often mentioned that as a photographer you should give yourselves a project to illustrate. This will entail your telling a story by way of photographic images, something that I believe all photographers should aspire to. May I suggest that all the great photographers that have gone before us are now revolving in their graves after being subjected to countless ‘selfies’ on the social media.
Can I also ask that all of you who do post on Facebook or whatever try posting images that tell a story. If you are going to share the fact that you have been to some beach, hotel or other notable destination, make your photograph tell that story, more than just a photograph of the beach or the hotel. Make your posted pic tell your story. It will take some thought, but give it a go!