While listening to several Podcasts recently I have noticed some common threads. The first is that photography is becoming about the experience of getting a shot, not the final outcome. What people are craving is not to see and potentially purchase a print of some amazing shot you took, but hearing and ideally seeing a video record of what it took to get the shot. The assumption here being that you had to go to a specific place that presented some challenges either in getting there, needing very specific weather conditions, specific time of the day or time of year, or some combination of these. One example I ran into was a 15 minute YouTube video following a landscape photographer on a multi-day hike in a remote region with examples of still shots taken along the way. The bulk of the material was about the hike with momentary flashes of the actual photographs. There was no dialogue, just the sounds of walking and other natural sounds present in the environment. While this was interesting to watch for a few minutes, it provided me with little value. I did not learn anything new. I saw some interesting places I am unlikely to ever visit, but gained no real value from it personally.
Returning to the various conversations I listened to, it became clear that this example and hundreds of other similar videos, some with more narrative, is driving more people to want that same experience, going on the hike and maybe taking some decent shots along the way. I am sure this is a reflection of my age, my generation, my values and what I seek to get from taking photographs, but I cannot accept that the experience is that valuable or achievable for most people.
In one of the podcasts a statement was made that only a small number of people may ever be interested in owning a print you made, but thousands want the experience it took to take the picture. This is apparently the trend in present culture. It reminds me about what I think of as the “Instagram effect”. Thousands of (mindless) folks flocking to some place to be able to take a “me too” shot of the location or scene. Applying some built in filters and instantly they have their own personal masterpiece. Really! Why on earth would you do that, and in the process more than likely cause untold, irreparable damage to the location, especially if it is somewhere in a protected natural area?
The other part of this conversation is the assumption that everybody will consume this material that inspires them to want this experience, on their phones. Again – Really! How can you possibly appreciate the grandeur and splendor of some powerful scene on a screen that is 3 inches by 5 inches. Would the images Ansel Adams took with his view camera and printed as large prints ever have gained the fame and admiration if people saw them on a phone screen? I venture to say NOT! Being able to stand in front of such a print and see the detail, the nuance and care that went into creating that image is unique to that experience. One I do not see anybody having while viewing tiny images on a phone screen.
In the swipe-through-images culture we have you are lucky if one picture gets more than a few seconds of attention. What can you remember of any image, no matter how amazing if you swipe through several hundred in a few minutes? Where is the personal enrichment and value of seeing a great image – a work of art?
My hope is this is a current fad and one that will pass.
There is some evidence that there is at least a portion of photographers and photo “consumers” that hanker for a physical rendering of images.
The emergence and reasonable success of the Fujifilm Instax Mini Instant Film and Instant Mini Camera harkens back to Polaroid Cameras and instant prints, and says there is a need that is being fulfilled by this product. Another data point is the growth in published books, especially self-published books. While getting specific numbers is challenging, what I have been able to determine is that self-publishing of books (not just photo books) has been increasing at +/- 40% per annum for the past 2 to 4 years.
An anecdote I heard just today was from a photographer that self-published a book in print and E-book format simultaneously on Amazon. After about 3 months of sales he is seeing a consistent ratio of E-book to Print book of 35 to 65, i.e. 65% of the book sales are PRINT.
The service that is growing is the printing photo-annuals for families. These services will collect images from your social media feeds and phones and print a book of all your (family) photos for that year in chronological order.
When it comes to images there is much more value, satisfaction and pleasure from having a book to hold and see high quality prints of the images. When it comes to photo books specifically, the longevity of the Charcoal Book Club suggests that there is a sufficient audience that is paying for new works (books and prints). The annual fee to join the club is $696 for a new singed book and one new print every month.
Go forth and print your work, or have it printed for you. Put them on your walls. Give prints to friends and family to enjoy. Find a gallery to exhibit your work. You will gain so much more from the physical prints you can hold and return to over time.