Everyone these days can take a great photo. And I mean everyone. And I mean great. Andy Warhol remarked that everyone would get 15 minutes of fame: I predict that everyone will take at least one great photo in their digitized life. Maybe even two or three.
When your camera allows you to take thousands of shots you can fail to take a great shot thousands of times before that visually brilliant shot appears. You don’t even have to think much about it: just point and shoot, shoot, shoot.
Nowadays, you don’t have to spend four years at art school to become a photographer. You just need to go to Future Shop and buy a cheap digital camera.
For my headshot, taken for this column back in 2010, the photographer took maybe 200 shots. Maybe 2,000. Certainly hundreds of shots. The camera just kept clicking for 15 minutes like punctuation to his conversation.
For the posters they used back in the mega-city election after most West Island mayors had decided to join Gérald Tremblay’s Union party, we got to choose our mug shots from maybe 50 already edited choices. And that wasn’t because we were all lousy subjects: You have the technology, you use it. They could make us look like geniuses.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration the ability to Photoshop. That’s even a new verb to describe the doctoring of photos. It used to be considered an act of fraud. Nowadays all photos are “shopped.” Now, we assume that all those magazine photos are doctored because it’s so easy.
(Of course, on the upside, you can get rid of all the bits you’re not happy with.)
And when they combined the digital camera with the mobile phone, eureka! You suddenly had the most democratic tool ever invented, capable of sparking revolutions, of disseminating explosive live visual liberating information. Like everyone’s cultural hand-grenade exploding around public and private events. Egypt, Libya, Tunisia are all caught up in mobile phone revolutions.
My daughter, Cara, is a performance artist and you’d think that might mean she’d just be doing performances trying to catch everyone’s attention. But no, she has just put on a big show of artistic photographs in Ottawa: and by big, I mean very big. You can now print huge photos, like those 19th-century paintings meant for enormous residences. The viewer is astounded by the sheer volume of the image.
And I was worrying, back a few columns, about the future municipal historian having to go through millions of digitized photos to put together those books about our towns. I have a collection of West Island town books and I love the old photos. As I drive by on our modern highways, as I grind through rush-hour traffic jams in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, I can see and dream about the past.
And I was worrying that the future historian would be swamped with millions of images to wade through.
Once again a skeptical and vigilant reader wrote deflating my digital dream of the future. It was a shower of cold water over my feverish enthusiasm for the camera revolution: “Unless precautions are taken,” our reader wrote, “our current world will be undocumented, invisible to future generations. All it takes is the crash of a hard disk.”
Yikes! “Unless photographers are religious about making backups, and count on copying their entire collection from old technology to the new every 10 years, there will be nothing for your municipal historian to sort through.”
Here is a vision as bleak as the period in history they call the dark ages because there wasn’t much illuminating going on. From my digital feast of colour and image, is it possible that it could all be extinguished by a power failure?
Bill Tierney is the former mayor of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. firstname.lastname@example.org