With the availability of such excellent cameras at affordable prices, photography has become accessible to almost everyone. The automation that today’s cameras routinely offer, and the quality of images that they are capable of producing (in the right hands) have, in theory, moved photography forward immensely.
But have they?
The equipment and materials that photographers had to contend with until digital photography had matured would have been enough to put most people off from taking up serious photography, let alone the sheer expense of it. The cost per frame on a roll of 36 x 35mm film was considerable, and the wastage in terms of producing acceptable pictures immense. Nowadays, of course, each digital image is effectively almost free to produce, and expense is only incurred when printing and presenting an image, but this can be managed by being ultra-selective.
But given the undoubted advantages, looking back on the work of the photographers who did battle with such equipment, it seems that they produced excellent results, to some extent at least, DESPITE their equipment, not BECAUSE of it.
When you look at the work of some of the iconic photographers of the past (Robert Doisneau being a particular favourite of mine) then the quality of the pictures that they produced with equipment that most of us would struggle with today is all the more remarkable. Absolute harmony with his camera, lightning reflexes and sharpness of thought and reaction were all key to Doisneau’s work, otherwise the moment was gone and the picture lost. In some pictures, the technical quality isn’t perfect, but the strength of the composition and the picture’s message are what really count. The picture can become timeless, despite any technical imperfections. And THAT is the real skill of photography.
In these days of point-and-shoot, and throw-away images, just about anyone can learn enough about their camera to produce sharp, well-lit and perfectly exposed images that say precisely nothing. It’s worth remembering that it’s the PHOTOGRAPHER that produces the picture; the camera is only the tool with which he produces it.