Change is a factor that permeates every part of our lives. Everything changes as the days, weeks, months and years go by. Many people, maybe even most people, are resistant to change, at least to certain types of it. In photography, for instance, change can sometimes feel aggravating. Who wants to learn all about a new camera system when the one you are already using once worked just fine?
The problem with resistance to change is this: If we all refused to change, then we'd still be lugging around giant cameras like photographers did more than a century ago. We’d be printing our fuzzy monotone images on sheets of metal. Maybe we'd never have moved on to color photography.
And that is why we embrace change. Because even though it is scary sometimes, it is generally for the better. In photography, change means innovation, learning and moving forward. When I stop to think about how far we’ve come since the first photographic image was produced, I’m somewhat awed by the progress. And then I think, what revolutions, what changes, will we see in the future? Will the photographers of 100 years from now look back at our primitive DSLRs, lenses, post-processing and printing processes with the same sense of awe that we feel when we stop to reminisce? Possibly so.
But that’s beside the point. Let’s take a look at the ways that our art changes so that we can hopefully come away with a greater appreciation for new and different things.
If you're like most photographers, you love the camera that you currently use and all the rest of the gear that goes along with it. After all, one of the most essential parts of finding the right system is finding one that you can use with relative ease. However, one day, that camera, or your favorite lens, or some other piece of gear will break (or become obsolete) and you'll be forced out to go and buy something new. Something that you will likely end up enjoying just as much as what you have now, but that you will find irritating as you try to learn the new controls and quirks of the gear.
The thing is, that newer piece of equipment? It will almost always be better than the original thing that you had. If it’s a new camera, you’ll probably have better resolution, the ability to shoot noise-free at higher ISOs or a greater range of features that you can put to work in the field. New flashes will likely give you, even more, control over lighting than your old flashes and new lenses might have wider apertures. In the end, though you may miss your old pieces of equipment, though you are frustrated with the idea of learning how this new and different thing works, the change is almost always positive.
Techniques Change with Trends
The technique is another big part of photography that is subject to rapid change. With each new trend comes the potential for a new technique that is added to our repertoires. For example, back in the old days, flashes produced whatever color lighting they produced and that was that. If it was yellow hued or greenish, that’s just what photographers had to deal with. Then, as the trend of flash photography grew, manufacturers began refining the hardware, producing flashes with consistent, complementary lighting.
Then a whole new trend came along. Photographers began modifying their flashes with whatever they had on hand, sometimes with materials like colored gels that are used in stage lighting. Today, photographers can buy color filters or gels specifically made because of the trend of colored lighting that went on to become a technique so many of us still use.
When you stop to really examine all of the various techniques that we use today, I think you'll find that they all started with someone that was willing to do something different. By themselves changing the way they did things, they started trends that took off and become mainstays for the photographers of the future.
The Meaning Changes
In the 1800s and early 1900s, it was a common practice among people with the means to afford it to create post-mortem photographs. Bodies of loved ones were prepared, dressed and posed, usually sitting or lying down. When photographs were taken, printed and given to the surviving family, who cherished those photos as fond remembrances of their lost loved ones.
Today, we look at reproductions of these images in an entirely different way. These aren’t fond remembrances. They weren’t even people that we knew or were related to in some way. Now, the images feel chilling, grim. They're a stark reminder of mortality, they are uncomfortable to look at yet oddly fascinating in a morbid way.
So it goes for all photographs. The meanings can and likely will change throughout the years. Even without the passage of time, the meanings will likely change depending on who is looking at the photograph. And, that’s a good thing. Photography and most other art forms for that matter are mediums meant to be thought provoking. The fact that these meanings change with time or with different audiences means that the images are not stale. Their effect has not worn off. Instead, they are provoking new and unique thoughts every time someone stops to ponder them.
I, for one, am glad that photography is not static. With each new thing, we gain more knowledge, better technology, improved methods, and techniques. Change is what keeps our viewers interested and it is what makes the art come alive. If it helps you, keep this in mind the next time you’re feeling frustrated with something new.