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Business / Philosophy of Photography Taking pics is one thing, but understanding why we take them, what they mean, what they are best used for, how they effect our reality -- all of these and more are important issues of the Philosophy of Photography. One of the best authors on the subject is Susan Sontag in her book "On Photography."

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Are photographs becoming less valuable?
Old 12-18-2007   #1
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Are photographs becoming less valuable?

Hello all.

I find this forum has a lot more depth than the others, so I will pose these questions here.

1. Are there more cameras (all types) is use today than twenty years ago?

I think the answer to that is a YES.

So, assuming that is the case, we can assume that there are more images being produced.

2. Do you think that makes images hold less emotional value?

I know for a fact that I do not have any "good" photographs of my childhood. Mainly just the average family snapshots. That is the main reason I got in to photography, to make sure my kids won't have that problem. Prior to digital, I would shoot on average of ten rolls a months of my kids. Then with digital, the numbers increased.

Fast foward twenty years, there will be quite possibily a 100K images of my kids. Probably more. So, say out of those, there will be 250 top notch images of each child. Really good portraits.

That's not to mention any images taken by other parents at school or events, friends, etc... With the internet, photo hosting sites, a camera on every device... Everyone will be able to search their name and a whole portfolio will come up.

Of course a great majority of them nothing more than snapshots, but you get the picture...


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Old 12-18-2007   #2
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Lots of ways to look at that.
Maybe since there are so many more of a kind to look at, we can just be pickier about which qualify as great?
Maybe we're so saturated with imagery that no individual frame can be as affective as in earlier times?
The dollar value of stock and documentary photos has certainly gone down over the years, if that is really an indicator of the value of photographs.
On the other hand, news articles (I think) tend to use more visual aids than they have in the past. Whether this is a product of more pictures being available or that people are more likely to pay attention to a story with images is two sided- in one sense, this indicates less value to photos and in another more.
In looking through the prints, slides and negatives of my forebears, there are signs of each time. Choices of subject matter, number of frames taken during a given time period and the like surely show the same trend as we see now having been in play for at least 150 years.
My great grandfather shot 5x7's before the turn of the century, and in spite of having an education in photography left maybe 100 negatives. His daughter, my grandmother, left thousands in spite of having no formal training. My folks are hoarding a much larger number yet, and I and my brothers are making them like crazy.
Similar thoughts have plagued the imaging industry since its beginning; the camera obscura probably made "artists" out of the undeserving, the same as every advance in picture making technology since. Miniature portraitists were reduced to adding colors to daguerrotypes and complained about the death of an art form and industry. And at the same time, more people gained access to more accurate portraits.
Of course most of us have spent time thinking about the subject, myself included. To me, things have changed, and also have not. If you feel compelled to make pictures, by all means do!
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Last edited by Bryce : 12-18-2007 at 23:08.
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Old 12-18-2007   #3
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In my family, the number of images taken has increased many-fold: but the quality of those images, and the value accorded to them, has dropped even more considerably. In my experience, casual digital photography has done more harm than good and I dearly wish that people were more selective in what they photographed.

One of the common arguments for digital is that you can just keep snapping away, at no additional cost, and so one gets more good photos (even if the ratio of keepers drops considerably) by massively increasing the number of overall images taken. While this may hold true when photographing inanimate objects, I do not believe that it holds for people. It seems to me that:

1- Photographing people involves capturing a decisive moment; an expression or action of particular interest. Taking an extra frame does not allow one to go back in time or recreate the scene that has passed. The opportunity has changed and it cannot be recreated.

2- Taking large numbers of photos is often a disruptive process (particularly when flash is involved) and people can become jaded to the presence of a camera. This is why I do not believe that rapid fire shooting necessarily helps in capturing a decisive moment involving people.

I suggest that it remains a sound policy to choose shots carefully/strategically and to hold off for that decisive moment. Now a disciplined shooter can do this with any equipment but digital certainly makes it easier for an enthusiastic amateur to forget and blast away!

Another issue in my family, which only seems to be getting worse, is that there are now too many would-be photographers. Let’s all pose and pretend like we are having fun and doing something interesting, for my facebook! If everyone is standing around with a camera then no one is left do to the things that we are hoping to photograph. Ironic, no?

I long for the good old days. They didn’t seem so great at the time but they get rosier with each passing day...


Last edited by Hephaestus : 12-19-2007 at 09:42.
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Old 12-18-2007   #4
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Originally Posted by jfretless
Fast foward twenty years, there will be quite possibily a 100K images of my kids.
IŽd rather have 100 selected images from my childrenŽs days than an archive of 100.000 that no one ever will want to look through.
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Old 12-19-2007   #5
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I have looked at selling some of my photos as stock, 25 cents is an insult.

But I think this sums it up perfectly, as I have run into this situation more times then not:

This is so true...
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Old 12-19-2007   #6
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In general the answer is "YES" - photographs have already become less valuable - because in my definition a photograph is a PRINTED image - not something you look at on your TV or computer. The final stage of a photograph is the print - how many people do you know who actually still print their digital snapshots?

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Old 12-19-2007   #7
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We have gallery and do picture framing.

A bit of the work, we have for sale in our gallery, is Black and White photography. The wife and I have developed a fairly good eye for an image that will sell. At this point in time people seem to be drawn toward the Black and White images. We have no digital images for sale. (Yet)

As for the picture framing:
-The professional photographers we deal with, still bring us mostly, very high quality traditional Black and White work to be framed.
-There is some digital color coming in to be framed from these people. But even though the images are fine, the paper and the processes can be very, very poor.

-The amateur work we have framed tends to be all digital and of very poor quality. Their are exceptions, but for the most part it seems that they don't care.

-Lately we've had at least two newly married couples come in with traditional Black and White pictures of their wedding. They explained to us that they felt they owed good images of this ceremony for their future children. Digital wouldn't do. I'm hoping this is a trend.

Digital imaging can trivialize the process of capturing an image, but I think it still remains to be seen how this all unfolds.
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Old 12-19-2007   #8
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Because they’re getting more expensive.
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You’re only young once, but one can always be immature.

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Old 12-19-2007   #9
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I'd say that photographs are becoming less treasured, but as to value, I don't believe the value of a good photojournalist image will ever decrease. Prices for stock/royalty free images have dropped enormously, I see 10-20% of what I did even six years ago from stock sales. But prices for art photogaphs continue to climb.

One can find a great deal of difference between value and price.
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Old 12-19-2007   #10
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Originally Posted by jfretless
I know for a fact that I do not have any "good" photographs of my childhood. Mainly just the average family snapshots. That is the main reason I got in to photography, to make sure my kids won't have that problem. Prior to digital, I would shoot on average of ten rolls a months of my kids. Then with digital, the numbers increased.

Fast foward twenty years, there will be quite possibily a 100K images of my kids. Probably more. So, say out of those, there will be 250 top notch images of each child. Really good portraits.
FWIW, I can only stand so many pictures of myself. I'm 27 now and my parents are in their 60s. As I sort through the thousands of prints, slides, and negatives littering this house I realize that I mostly grew up with them _behind_ the camera. I don't really care what I looked like when I was 4 years old; I don't need 10 rolls of portraits from each year of my life. I have a feeling that it's the few really good photos of them that I'll cherish the most when I'm their age.
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Old 12-19-2007   #11
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The intent of the photographer needs to be considered.

Those taking pictures on cell phones have no real interest in preserving them. It's the equivalent of the daily newspaper: illustrate the event and move on. In this case the intent is to show one's friends something of momentary interest (like a trip to a tourist destination). There are billions of these now being taken.

Those taking family pictures used to preserve them, but in many cases, the effort was casual. For every person who filed pictures in an album there were probably 20 with them in a shoe box. Most have little interest to anyone outside of those appearing in the pictures and their immediate friends and relatives.

Many of the pictures of this type taken since the 1940's in color have now faded so handing them down to future generations is doubtful. Some can be rescued by scanning, but most people don't have the resources or inclination. I claim that much of the 20th Century will lost because of fading images, nitrate film and books printed on wood pulp paper. I have plenty of example myself, many less than 50 years old.

Commercial and stock images were always throwaway. The increased competition is just making the profession of photography for such people less profitable.

"Fine Art" will survive. The factor that makes them valuable is their uniqueness. The sale of original prints made by the photographer as contrasted with reprints made later shows that it is the object that is valuable not the image. The "art" market is all about commerce, not art. This won't change.
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Old 12-19-2007   #12
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So many good posts here.

I've spent the last few nights scanning old family photos again. Brownie, Instamatic, 35mm, slides, negs, faded prints and all. So this is on my mind. Most are crap. I love them all. I don’t have tons of photographic experience, having been really serious about images from a camera for only the past year.

With regards to the original poster’s questions, I think #1 is a definite YES. Tons of cameras. They’re everywhere. Tons of images. With regards to #2, though, I think the answer is NO. Stock images may be worth less financially, but the best images will always have a high emotional value and, where that becomes art or meaningful to a large number of people, also a higher financial value.

“Fast forward twenty years, there will be quite possibly a 100K images of my kids.” The mistake here, if there is one, is seeing the camera as a tool for cataloging. I see it as a tool for painting. If you want a catalog, it is now possible to record with video every moment – why miss any? So throw away the 100k images, save for the very best. They are only sketches that led up to that ‘best” final painting, anyway. In that sense they have value, but only a small amount. It took me a while to realize this – my first photography, like many, was shooting to “preserve” vacation memories. I still shoot on vacation, of course, but now I’m hoping to “create” something new.

With regards to throwing away, I use a grading system where photos are grouped by quality and kept for a time. This is because we are not our own best editors, and time will alter the edit. My personal system, film or digital, is to grade 1 for best, then 2, 3, and trash. I immediately dump the trash, I dump the threes after a few weeks, and keep the 1 and 2s. I grade each shot with relative standards, measured only against the other shots on the roll/ from the same shoot. I’d love to hear from someone who has lots of experience and feels strongly about keeping everything (as that’s where I started, at least the keep everything part).

I’m happy that both cameras and digital images are proliferating. It has meant a couple of things to me in the last year: 1) It is becoming obvious to many that it takes more than just a camera to make great pictures. 2) Shooting in public is less conspicuous because there are so many other cameras out there; people are becoming numbed to the presence of a camera. That’s good for the photographer who has a plan. 3) Cheap digital images create a very short positive feedback loop for the photographer who is paying attention. I can (and am) learning faster than ever because I can work through a “bad” to “good” progression in hours (digital) instead of days or weeks (film) when I’m playing with an idea.

RE: Hephaestus (in spite of the white text). I think there are several good points in there, especially about people and getting the shot or not. I find a rangefinder perfect for this, but it speaks more to knowing both what you want and how to use your camera to get it than it does to film or digital. I will use my Hexar RF and an Olympus XA a lot this Christmas because I know they are most likely to help me paint well in the environment of friends, family, kids and moments. I have also seen the Big SLR + lack of experience = disruption of the moment. A little deference to the family and an XA, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to bother anyone at all. Unless they’re trying to talk to me and catch up on the past year.

Overall, I’d say aim squarely for quality, make yourself happy, and let the rest march on. Sorry for the long post.
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Last edited by mackigator : 12-19-2007 at 10:54.
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Old 12-19-2007   #13
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Originally Posted by Pitxu
... I can't remember his name, but an american photographer died about 10 years back and stated in his will that all his negs should be burnt after his death....

Brett Weston I believe.
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Old 12-19-2007   #14
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I've been a photographer for a long time and have seen lots of changes in photography. From everyone shooting with Rolleis and B/W to the shift to 35mm and color and then the growth of digital photography and the web.

Change is inevitable. We can adapt and live with it. but what i think we need is to be serious and intelligent.

What scares me the most though is that now that the change in digital photography has been accompanied by stupidity. Snapping a million photos hardly makes good photographs. One thoughtful shot is worth a million dumb shots. And digital photography and its point and shoot mentality urges people not to think.

Look at the spread of the inanity that is at the core of the web. Most of the photos on the online services like iStockphotos are trivial and badly done. But in the dumbed down world of the web they are marketable.

A couple of years ago I met with a group of phoyojournalism students in Hanover, Germany. All these kids wanted to do was grab a camrea and a couple of lenses and head out to some remote places to photograph the lives of real people.

In our entitlement culture you don't find many kids like that. Too many here want cameras so they can photograph themselves drunk. They embrace their inner stupid.

We can do better.

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Old 12-19-2007   #15
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A couple of years ago, I posted a link on Photonet to a news story concerning a fire in a bank building that resulted in the loss of several valuable photographs from their collection. The general consensus of those who posted to the thread was, "Oh, who cares?" One post suggested the bank should just go into their file folders and print up new copies. I'm not sure to this day if these responses were based on comedy, ignorance, total stupidity or poor insight and judgment.

I've come to expect most non-photographers I know to have little appreciation of my or anyone else's photography. It's pretty disappointing to find this attitude among other photographers.
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Old 12-19-2007   #16
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Yes, I also worked in photojournalism for about a quarter of my lifetime--but not for many years now. I'm familiar with today's newspaper becoming tomorrow's fish wrap. Most of the time, that was a worthwhile use. But I've always valued photographs, either original prints or reproductions in books. I've never been able to afford collecting original prints but I have a huge collection of photography books. Many of them have a high monetary value these days but I place more value on the photographs inside and would never consider selling any of them.
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Old 12-19-2007   #17
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Thanks for the great responses. As someone said eariler in thread, sorry for not quoting, a great majority of the images taken today will not exist in five years, one year, or even less. Average snap shooters will not take the steps to preserve those images, or not even care. So, I will go on documenting the special moments in my children's lives, but with one small change... Get out from behind the camera and get in to the frame once in a while.

Thanks again.
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