Is photography still a creative medium?  

by simonrleach

Or is it returning to its technical roots? Have we come full circle where photographers today, like the scientists that were the first photographers, need to be more in tune with the technological science than the creative process? 

It seems there has been conflict between digital photography and (a good number of) photographers since the dawn of digital. Whilst some stepped off into the unknown and never looked back, others have struggled with the growing influence of technology on photographic creativity. It is important to understand the influence of technology on the creative process if we want photographic creativity to continue. It is also important to acknowledge different creative processes. Whilst technology enables creativity for some practitioners in ways that were not previously possible, for others, including myself, personal creativity is, in part, about having the time to think and explore. Technology, quite frankly can get in the way or enable you to work too fast.

This blog is not a monologue on the virtues of returning to analogue (film); although I do shoot a little film, I love digital. But I do wander if the reported rise of photographers, particularly the young, shooting on film is a sub-conscious striving to get back in touch with the creative process through a more time-intensive process that allows time for the creative idea to be considered and developed. It is often reported that technology makes it easier for us to be creative, but personally I find it is the element of time that is critical. In a commercial environment this is not always available, but it is important not to rush unnecessarily. I have heard many great photographers speak about their photographic process and almost all mention the time they take, the slowing down, the inquisition, that enhances their results. In the end it is about achieving a balance and learning what adds to your vision and what adds distraction. 

Another consequence of digital photography is that there is so much to learn that it is almost impossible to keep up with current best practice. Combine this with the pressures and ability to shoot faster and that’s where frustration kicks in. It makes us question ourselves: why I am I struggling with this piece of software? Am I not up to the task in hand? Why do I have to keep learning and relearning, changing the way I work? 

Is creativity being stifled by the technology meant to enable it? Is the rate of change too fast?

Case in point, talking to a couple of friends recently the discussion has been about the need to use faster and faster shutter speeds. I used to select the shutter speed with very little consideration of anything other than its part in the balance of my light to the ambient light and the depth of field I wanted. And, a very long time ago when I was an apprentice, I was using cameras whose sync speed was 1/15th sec; I was not afraid to handhold at very slow shutter speeds. With technology giving us greater resolutions and the ‘glass’ we use significantly different, it is now these factors that dictate shutter speed, and more importantly for me, that even with flash to frieze movement the relatively slow sync speed means I can no longer hand hold. So we are at a point where the technological constraints limit the creative process. Are we in danger of our imaginations being bound by technological limitations?

The tools photographers use are increasingly developed by technical and scientific brains. Their passion to push the boundaries is driven by businesses that want to be a step ahead of their competitors. A friend whose photography I love and who is also a technical wizard tells me regularly that I need to stop thinking about the impact of technology and simply accept it as the new way of the world. Technology has moved on and there is no place for what, or how, we used to create. I challenge this perspective, creative thought and imagination is fundamental to what we create and the communication we achieve, we do not all follow the same creative process. There is something more to imagination and vision than a pure ease and ability create a picture. We all need those with a true creative eye to show us things in a unique and individual way.

Photography has always included a technological element: cameras and lenses, software; but, all are merely tools. A photographer’s skill and value is in equal measure their ability to operate their tools and to give life to their vision. The creativity, that essence of an idea formed into something tangible for others to see, contemplate and be moved by, this can happen in different ways. There is a balance to be struck, a challenge for all creatives, but perhaps greater for today’s photographers: to allow for technology, but not be dominated by it. In this technological age photographers, perhaps more than ever before, must be fully committed to a creative practise, to nurturing their curiosity and imagination and to drive forward their creative development. 

A special mention for:  

 Andy Kruczek.   &.   Richard Curtis

With grateful thanks.