Monday, October 3, 2011

The Emergence of Digital Photography in an Analog World

Kodak Brownie Hawkeye
Originally uploaded by Warriorwriter
“We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art” (Valéry, 1964, p. 225).

Executive Summery

Introduced in 1935, Kodachrome was one of the world’s first commercially successful color photographic films. Its unique color characteristics, and forgiving exposure tolerances led to its adoption by millions of amateur and professional photographers throughout the 20th century. However, the Eastman Kodak Company recently announced that they would no longer be producing Kodachrome film, or the chemicals necessary for its complex development process (Eastman Kodak, 2009).
Kodak’s sudden discontinuation of their iconic film sent shockwaves through the photographic community because the company attributed the decision not only to the laborious development process, but also to a drastic drop in demand brought about by emerging digital technologies (Ibid). The implications of one of modern photography’s most revered film stocks dying out due to lack of demand prompted numerous bloggers and online pundits to announce to the world that digital photography had killed film (Sandström, 2009). Fortunately for film enthusiasts, such hyperbolic declarations are flawed in the same ways as previous claims that film would obsolete the paintbrush.
New technologies have consistently redefined photography since Daguerre and Talbot revealed their world changing inventions. Digital cameras and online sharing are simply the latest progressions in the continuum of photographic advancement. Digital cameras and photo-editing computer software provide ordinary people with access to photographic opportunities that were once only available to professionals and serious hobbyists with home darkrooms.
Electronic sensors in digital cameras have functionally displaced the once popular small format cameras, and have precipitated a decline in the demand for corresponding films like 35mm. This decline, along with the rise of the Internet, has led to a dramatic decrease in the amount of physical prints being made as people increasingly edit, store and view their images electronically.
In order to understand the ramifications of the latest technological progression, it is important to examine how photographic formats have been significant in the past and what the evolution of technology has done to the practice of taking and sharing photos. The way people share photographs has changed dramatically since the emergence of the Internet, and this evolution is playing a pivotal role in the ways people converge upon photography as art and as a source of information.
Within this convergence (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3), the popular use of digital photography in online media has helped define new types of social interaction and participatory culture. Film and digital are co-existing as artistic outlets, and hybrid forms of media are emerging as respected documents and art forms.

The Analog Age

In 1839, Louis Jacque Mandé Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot unveiled groundbreaking scientific processes that made practical photography possible. Their two different methods for permanently fixing camera images on physical media paved the way for modern photography, and revolutionized the process of creating visual artwork and documenting the world. However, scientists and scholars had known about the properties of light, exposure and camera technology for many centuries before Daguerre and Talbot publicized their findings to the world.
As early as 384 B.C., Aristotle chronicled his knowledge about the properties of the camera obscura in observations of how a partial solar eclipse was visible in reverse through small holes in palm branches (Gernsheim, 1969, p. 6). The camera obscura, literally “dark room” in Latin, consisted of a room, box or other dark enclosure that had a small hole on one side that allowed light to enter and reflect off an opposing interior wall, creating an upside down image of the outside world. Curious scientists and scholars used the camera obscura to study principles of light and optics (Ibid, p. 11). With the incorporation of convex mirrors and optical lenses, artists were later able to manipulate the placement of images in order to use them as outlines for highly accurate drawings and paintings.
The chemical precursors to modern film were also well known many years before the introduction of the direct and negative image processes. In the 1200s, Albertus Magnus described the basic properties of silver nitrate, including its sensitivity to sunlight. Angelo Sala also provided extensive documentation of these phenomena in 1614 (Davidson, 2003). Johann Heinrich Schulze exploited earlier chemical science discoveries through optical means in 1725, but it was not until Nicéphore Niépce recorded his now famous View from the Window at Le Gras in 1826, that photography truly emerged in its now recognizable form (Gernsheim, 1969, p. 31).
Niépce captured his heliograph, or sun drawing, using a camera obscura to focus light on a pewter plate covered with light-sensitive bitumen of Judea. After an 8-hour exposure, Niépce developed his image by washing the plate with lavender oil and white petroleum, which dissolved the parts of bitumen that had not been polymerized by exposure to light (Newhall, 1982, p. 14). This process created a positive image on the plate of the landscape as seen from Niépce’s workshop window.
Daguerre and Talbot further refined the photographic medium by employing materials that were much more sensitive to light, thus requiring drastically shorter exposure times than Niépce’s process. Daguerre’s process used mercury vapor to develop images on silver-halide coated copper plates (Gernsheim, 1969, p. 42). Daguerreotypes, as pictures formed using Daguerre’s process became know, created a negative image that could be seen as either negative or positive depending on one’s viewing angle to the highly polished silver surface upon which the image was etched. As a result, Daguerreotypes, while a significant step forward in photographic science, were unique pieces that could not be duplicated.
Talbot’s calotype, on the other hand, used silver iodide-coated paper to record negative images that could be reproduced as positive prints. Introduced the same year as the Daguerreotype, the calotype process quickly rose to prominence because of its capacity for duplication. This highly sought after feature led to the further developments in negative process photography, and later to the emergence of photographic prints.
Following the landmark introduction of the aforementioned processes, rapid advancements in chemical science and optical technology brought about improved photographic methods, and helped reduced the overhead costs associated with its practice. As the technology progressed, photography began to spread around the world, and new uses for the medium also began to emerge.
The tintype, patented by American inventor Hamilton Smith in 1856, was one early production method that lent itself to quick, inexpensive mass-production of positive images. Like the Daguerreotype, tintypes created a direct positive, reversed left-to-right, image of the subject. However, unlike expensive and impossible to reproduce Daguerreotypes, tintypes were produced on cheap, and readily accessible iron sheets, (not tin as the name implies). They did require mounting in a case and were not as delicate as other photographs that used glass for support. These features led to tintype’s adoption as the premier medium for early “snapshots” (Rinhart, Rinhart & Wagner, 1999, pgs. 6-7). Tintype’s flexibility and ease of reproduction also helped to spawn a culture of portraiture and photo sharing (Ibid, pgs. 84-85).
In the intervening 150 years since the tintypes glory days, multiple refinements in the technology of creating and sharing photographs have led to medium’s wide acceptance as a respected outlet for art, entertainment and documentation. Photogravure printing, pictorialism and modern art movements, stroboscopic lighting, the half-tone process, photojournalism, The Negative, the introduction of Kodak’s Brownie camera, and the invention of Polaroid film are only a small fraction of the photographic innovations that have led up to today’s digital revolution.
The theme that has remained constant throughout this entire continuum, that is, until the introduction of the digital format, has been the tangibility of the finished photograph. Whether printed on glossy card stock, mounted on canvas, half-toned into newspapers, or displayed on giant billboards, photos have always been something the viewer could interact with inside the three-dimensional world. Even photographs that appeared on television were based upon real, physical media that had been rerecorded for broadcast dissemination.
The emergence of digital photography has, arguably, reshaped this paradigm. The digital format has replaced film and print as the dominant method for creating and sharing photography. By introducing an environment in which people can examine and distribute photography without having to physically interact with a tangible photograph, digital technology and the Internet are completely redefining the photographic medium.

Ghost in the Shell

Describing how the photographer’s vision is only realized after he prints his work, Ansel Adam’s once wrote that “The negative is the score, the print is the performance” (Weston, 2007, p. 8) This statement helps explain the difference between the rote mechanical operation of a camera, and the artistic manipulation required to translate a captured image into a something with which a viewer can interact.
Adam’s quote is especially relevant in an age where the majority of photographs are no longer created as a direct reaction of light upon chemicals in an emulsion, but instead as electronic data filtered through silicon computer chips and magnetic storage media. The digital recording process is a system of functions that work together to produce a readable, standardized output file, which can be electronically displayed as an image on screen, or translated into a physical form by printers. In digital photography there is no longer one medium that both captures and stores an image like film. The ways in which digital photography creates imagery are more closely related to the way the human visual system functions than with the way cameras of old produced photos on film. As such, the inner workings of digital cameras are surprisingly complex considering the ease with which they can be operated.
Fixed and interchangeable lenses provide digital cameras with the same “eyes” as many of their film counterparts, but the inner workings of those eyes have evolved significantly since the introduction of the simple meniscus lens. Charge-coupled device (CCD) and complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) sensors act as the digital camera’s “retina”. These sensors are made up of millions of electronic photodiode receptors known as pixels (the metaphorical rods and cones), which capture light and translate it into electrical voltage (Mcmahon & Rawlinson, 2008, p. 12).
When the camera shutter opens, pixels in the sensor measure luminance at each photosite, and through various filtering technologies, assign red, green and blue color values to the data. Microprocessors and circuitry within the camera act as the “optic nerve”, converting and interpolating pixel values through various mathematical algorithms before relaying them as binary code to the camera’s “brain”. In the brain (often a proprietary computer chip that varies in functionality depending on the manufacturer) this raw data is converted into a standardized digital image file format, and then packed away into magnetic or flash memory banks for later retrieval (Ibid, pg. 13). The format of the final digital file can be read by photo-editing and/or viewing software within, and outside of the camera.
The end result of this complex capture and interpretation process is a digital photograph. Just like most previous forms of photography, the final image as displayed on screen or printed out, represents an approximation of what the photographer originally framed in his viewfinder. However, there are several features that make these new types of image very different from the older formats.
One major difference between current digital photography and film is in tonal mapping. The human eye and photo emulsion both process tonal gradations along a gamma curve, and are more sensitive to shadow details than to highlights. Digital files record tonal values on a linear scale, and allot decreasing amounts of digital information as dynamic values decrease (Ibid, pg. 14). Modern digital cameras are capable of recording a dynamic range of about six stops, as opposed the eight stops the human eye and film have been demonstrated to be able to process (Hoefflinger, 2007, pg. 1). This disparity is less pronounced in newer sensors that utilize 16-bits per pixel to record tonal information. However, even expensive digital cameras that feature this updated technology cannot yet approach the tonal quality and subtlety of inexpensive black & white print film.
Along with these technical variations, the precise definition of photography as a medium seems to have become muddled in this technological era where a computer chip “creates” an image from a compilation of electronic data. This fact raises questions about what, exactly, is the “ghost” (the essence of the photo) in the technological “shell”? The term “Ghost in the Shell” is borrowed from a Japanese science-fiction series of the same name (Smith, 2005), and refers to the difficult task of quantifying the boundary between human attempts to record the outside world, and a machine’s interpretation and mediation of that recording process. As digital technology progresses further the distinction between the two may continue to become more philosophical than physical.


The Rise of Digital Photography

Edwin Land released the world’s first instant camera in 1948, and kick-started an instant gratification revolution. Land’s Polaroid used a unique film and chemical process to rapidly create printed images straight from the camera, and the public reacted enthusiastically to the product. The near-instant visual feedback available from Polaroid’s proprietary process made the camera an instant classic, and helped it established itself as an iconic format amidst an industry otherwise dominated by darkroom-developed films (Lyons, 2008).
Like the candle that burns twice as bright, Polaroid was a victim of the very chemical process that gave it its most desirable traits. The film was expensive, and the prints it produced decayed rapidly. Despite its ability to give users quick access to their photographs, the Polaroid never came close to supplanting emulsion films as the industry leading photo format. Though Land Cameras did find a few commercial applications, the company boxed itself into a corner as a niche product by failing to adapt to the requirements of professionals. Camera bodies lacking interchangeable lenses; limitations on practical print sizes; no reproducible negatives; and the inability to make enlargements all contributed to the Polaroid format’s relegation to mostly recreational uses.
Last year, in the face of staggering market-share losses to digital photography, the struggling Polaroid company declared bankruptcy, and announced their intention to cease production of all their cameras and film stocks by the end of 2009 (Ibid). Again, as in the case of Kodachrome, digital photography has maneuvered itself into another niche of the photographic market. However, digital imaging was not an overnight success.
The lowly digital document scanner played a large role in the development of the technologies required to make digital photography practical. Before digital cameras were popular, or even practical, many photo labs offered film processing that included scanning prints into digital formats. Digitization of images got the ball rolling for online sharing, and photo editing software suites like Photoshop gave it another big push forward. As the Internet gained momentum and widespread usage rates increased, people began looking for ways to skip the intermediate process of scanning, and instead simply create digital images straight out of the camera.
While digital camera technology had existed since at least 1951 (Bellis, 2009), practical and affordable systems that could perform on the same level as lower-end film cameras did not emerge until the mid-1980s. Kodak released the first professional digital camera system with a 1.3 megapixel sensor in 1991. The breakthrough camera was aimed at the photojournalism market, but with a huge memory module and an extremely heavy battery dominating the lower half of what was essentially a retrofitted Nikon F-3 body, the camera was anything but a hit (Ibid). Though Kodak and Nikon were both early entrants in the digital market, only Nikon continued to invest heavily digital technology despite the public’s initially tepid response to the DCS. As a result, Nikon grew with the developing industry, and has continued to thrive in the professional digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) market.
Nikon has always derived their profits from the sales of cameras and lenses, so while they continued to produce high-end film cameras to meet industry needs, their business model did not hamper them when they chose to embrace digital. Unlike Nikon, Kodak was committed to film, and reluctant after its initial expenditure to continue investing heavily in a technology that would undermine its established business. By the time the tide had begun to turn in favor of digital, Kodak had waited too long to reenter the professional DSLR market.
The decreasing costs of digital photography have also continued to be a relevant factor in why the public has so widely embraced the format (Hedgecoe, 2001, p. 110). Digital photography costs are capitalized into the hardware purchases, meaning that once a user buys a camera and storage media, there are often no other fees involved in creating digital images. By comparison, film photography expenditures are recurring. Film users must pay for every picture three times, first for the initial hardware investment, second for the film, and third for processing and printing. There can also be addition costs associated with sharing the printed picture as well. With film, after the shutter clicks, everything costs additional money. As Kodak’s once popular slogan proudly proclaimed in the heady days of film’s photo market dominance, “You press the button, we do the rest.
The rise of digital imaging took an overwhelming economic toll on firms that had aligned themselves with this mantra. According to Sandström (2009), film companies like Polaroid, Kodak, Agfa and Fujifilm were all vertically integrated into the recurring cost business model. These companies provided almost every service in the entire value chain including “basic research, manufacturing, sales, marketing and photo-finishing” (Ibid). With the decrease in demand for film, these companies, and others like them, have either developed new ways to compete in the photographic industry or gone out of business. Planned obsolescence in digital camera technology appears to be one of ways in which digitally integrated companies have sought to redevelop the recurring cost business model.
It is not simply the reduced cost of digital, or its increased convenience over film that has helped the format entrench itself so deeply in our social consciousness. The way the public views photographs today is very different from how they viewed in the film era. Digital photos are backlit and projected at the viewer through high-resolution LCD or LED computer screens. Instead of only being able to passively view images as light reflected off the surface of a traditional print, viewers are now actively engaged with it. This digital display process is reshaping the way in which people view photography because it is much more dynamic than print viewing ever was.
Electronic displays have not replaced high-quality prints, but they have made it much easier for people to live without them. Most consumers just don’t want to go to the “hassle” of driving to the local photo lab, and waiting and hour, when they can instead view reasonable quality images on their omnipresent computer screens. Whereas a trip to the mini-lab was the only way for a person to see their results in the past, now they can look at the back of the camera or upload photos to their computer in less than a minute. Just as lower quality, but more convenient digital music formats like MP3s have replaced higher quality, but more cumbersome, analog formats like vinyl records, so are lower quality image formats replacing print for average consumers (Patterson, 2009).
People can now email or upload their images to online printing sites, or go to the local drug store chains for 10-cent prints. Even then, many people are still scanning their film so they can share it in a digital environment. Again, convenience has beaten out quality. However, the idea that digital photography will obsolete every film format is mistaken. Film and digital will continue to coexist in complementary roles, but as a result of the digital conversion, many smaller print labs are doomed to obsolescence.

The Digital/Film Divide

With the fall of the small labs, so go the interpersonal relationships and trust between photographers and the technicians who printed their images. There is now little if any interaction between the photographer and online lab techs. Home photo printers have advanced significantly in the past decade, but the quality of photos on archival-quality photo paper, when printed by trained technicians, is still unmatched. People who still want these professional prints, but no longer have access to their trusted labs, can find respected print services online. Instead of driving to a physical lab, photographers now have to upload their photo files to the Internet and wait for the prints by mail (all the while praying that their monitors are correctly calibrated to match the online laboratory’s color profiles).
In the past, many pros and serious amateurs avoided these issues all together by setting up home darkrooms to develop and print their own film. Unfortunately, this process was expensive, cumbersome and time-consuming. Today, any photographer with a computer can capture, process, enhance and print high-quality images with minimal training or experience. One of the main reasons for digital photography’s broad acceptance and commercial success is because the new format has simplified the workflow process and given all photographers (enthusiast, amateur and professional) more control. Digital has also opened up a whole new world of possibility to those for whom the medium was once cost and time prohibitive.
Film novices once took much greater care over every shot, but also missed opportunities to experiment and explore because of the cost of film. Digital has enabled budding photographers to affordably learn from experience, since they can shoot as many frames as the want, and adjust their technique based on the camera’s instant feedback. In this way, digital is helping make better photographers.
By introducing more people to learning tools and a wider selection of photographic genres, the Internet makes it possible for the average person to view an enormous volume of digital photography. Pre-digital photographers couldn’t see the entire catalogs of photographic masters like they can today, or even enough “good” work by their contemporaries to use as benchmarks for their own progression. They also didn’t have access to the now seemingly endless supply of tutorials on lighting, framing and editing that are available now.
Jenkins (2006) discusses the impact that digital photography has had on politics and culture in recent years. He explains how Internet users converged around digital photos of candidates during the 2004 election by editing, cropping and reinterpreting the content of the shots to fit differing ideological purposes (pgs. 224-226). The main difference between this participation and similar forms of convergence in past eras is the immense accessibility people now have to photographic content, and the speed with which they can share, edit and disseminate. This continued social movement has led to what Jenkins describes as participatory culture.
Viewing has never been a static process, but technological evolution has presented us with new ways of interacting with photography. Today we can rewrite captions, change meanings and redisseminate photos in seconds. Sontag (2003) wrote about how the reinterpretation of photo meanings is not concept that began with the emergence of digital in her book Regarding the Pain of Others. She described how members of warring factions have used the same or similar photographs to support vastly different ideological rhetoric, by reshaping the meaning of those photos through external mediation. Participatory culture has created an environment that nurtures external mediation on a grand scale.
The fact that more and more snapshots are being taken in place of a few carefully composed shots means that more people contributing to a growing “ecology of images” (Sontag, 2001). Sontag retracted her statements about the feasibility of such an idea (2002, p. 97), but it appears that online photo sharing sites like Flickr, Photobucket, Snapfish and Shutterfly have continued to push the ecology of images forward. That a person can now take 1000+ pictures of a subject if they so choose, means that they improve their ratios for ending up with at least one or two good shots. This fact implies that quality is a function of quantity, but the reality is much different.
Cameras integrated into mobile phones now render the same quality photographs as early professional digital cameras. These technologies, which allow us to share information so quickly and easily, have led to the production of unprecedented amounts of photographic content. That means that images that would once have been considered outstanding are now judged against thousands of others like them, and sometimes get lost in the noise. As Sontag said, “The vast maw of modernity has chewed up reality and spat the whole mess out as images” (2002, p. 97).
Butterflies, sunsets and flowers may have always been popular subjects for photography, but they were never as prevalent as they are in online photo forums today. Now anyone can find dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of photos of these subjects with a few simple keystrokes and mouse clicks. It is possible to create an original work even when photographing a subject that others have photographed multiple times. Those with the artistic “eye” find unique angles, compositions and cropping methods to make their work stand out from the rest. The challenging nature of this process is what makes original work so highly prized.
That so many people now post photos online could say something about their desire for recognition, or it could simply be a logical step in the evolution of the family photo album. However, with such a glut of content now available, some professional photographers are worried that their jobs may be in jeopardy.
Many of today’s controversies surrounding digital photography’s supposed displacement of film are remarkably similar to those that arose at the introduction of other photographic benchmarks. During the pictorialism era of photography, some painters snubbed their noses at photographers because they didn’t see their work as an equivalent art form. Photographers were using their new medium to replicate traditional painting techniques because they had not yet seen how the camera could be used in new and exciting ways. The same holds true for digital photography today. Some film artists are giving digital photographers the cold shoulder because they see digital format is a pedestrian attempt at art, but what they’re really disquieted about is the fact that their work may by supplanted.
Kodak’s introduction of the now legendary Brownie line of cameras caused a similar stir. Brownies made photography simple and relatively affordable for the masses, and many pro photographers feared that the influx of mass-produced content from enthusiasts would destroy or undermine the value of their work. Similarly, when amateur photographer Robert Lam recently sold one of his digital photos to Time Magazine for $30 (as opposed to the $3000 artists typically charge for cover art), many in the professional photographic community decried his actions as an attack on their livelihoods (Sklar, 2009). However, digital is no more a threat to professional photography or the medium in general, than the Brownie was.
Digital has removed the barrier to the once exclusive realm of artistic photography, and has democratized the process of sharing this art with the world. As digital technology continues to improve and processing methods further allow digital prints to emulate film, the distinction between the artistic merits of the two formats will become even less relevant.
For all of digital photography’s innovations, one tool it has not replaced is the artist’s eye. Today’s camera technologies can automatically select flash levels that adequately fill harsh shadows or overpowering light sources. They can ensure that dominant elements of the frame are in focus, and can even meter scenes with advanced light sensors that perfectly balance exposures. What none of these technologies can, or will ever be able to do is replace the artistic touch necessary to impart nuance through the subtle manipulation of light, color and composition.
Walter Benjamin (1968) wrote in his treatise on the subject of art in the age of mechanical reproduction that, “Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” (p. 1). It is an artist’s interaction with the technology, with the medium, that dictates the final output. John Hedgecoe (2001, p. 6) refers to this intangible element as artistic “choice”. Where the photographer stands, how he crops, and where he focuses are all elements upon which technological advancement has little bearing.  Barthes (1981) would probably have attributed this intangible element to “punctum,” or an aesthetic element that allows a photo to break through the banality of the “stadium,” or study of other photos within the photo’s same genre (pgs. 26-27).
A top-tier digital camera used in program mode by someone with limited skills may produce sharp, well-exposed images, but that doesn’t mean the final shot will be great. It still takes practice to develop the basic skills needed to master photography. How one composes a scene, focuses on a subject, selects an aperture and shutter speed, uses lighting and edits the final image are all variables that make up a great photographer. A 24-megapixel sensor can no more create Adams’ “Moon and Half Dome” than a Steinway piano can create Beethoven’s “Für Elise”. The output of technology alone can only ever hope to imitate an artist’s work, but never replicate it.

Digital has established itself as the dominant format in photography today. The advancement of photography is a continuing progression that does not look to relent anytime in the foreseeable future. In this burgeoning digital era it might be tempting to romanticize the shrinking traditional photo industry by proclaiming that the latest technologies can never take film’s place, but there are usually sound reasons for why new technologies functionally displace older ones. The incandescent bulb, for all its faults, proved to be a safer, and more efficient, way of lighting homes than the candle or oil lamp.
Conversely, the convenience and accessibility of digital photography must be weighed against its perceived impermanence and disposability. Film will not simply die out, especially among professionals who shoot medium and large formats. While digital technology has proven itself to be a genuine rival to the smaller film formats, it still has a long way to go before it can challenge large format resolution and affordability.
At their introduction, Daguerreotypes were expensive, one-off pieces of art and therefore only the most highly prized subjects were photographed. It is possible that artists may return to the idea of giving only important subjects the film treatment. Those photographers who enjoy this artistic process may also continue to gravitate toward film because it requires careful planning and attention to detail. There is purity in that fact that film has no redo/delete button.
Another reason why film and print will continue to exist in the digital world is because of their tangibility and longevity. Archival prints last well over 100 years. One cannot smell or feel a digital image like they can an old photograph. Perhaps we associate more emotional value to film and print because of unique abilities to physically preserve our memories.
Digital has not yet assured the public that it can last the test of time. Very few digital storage media can boast the type of longevity of paper, and digital storage standards change all the time. What is easy to access now may be hard, or impossible to access 10 years from now.
The answer to this new storage dilemma is found online. While people may not be saving photos in shoeboxes anymore, they are certainly not throwing away the new digital pictures they create. Instead they upload millions of photos to Internet social networks and photo-sharing sites everyday. These sites act as redundant storage vaults for users’ photos, and ensure that if their computers break down that they can still retrieve copies of their work online.
As has been stated, the way people take and share photography today has redefined the medium and the industry. Newer, less expensive, more convenient and more easily sharable forms of photography will continue to emerge, and as a result film photography looks to become a boutique industry. In the future, it may not matter that people know how to develop film anymore than they know how to operate a movable-type press, but the skills required for making and printing great photographs will not change. This fact means that talented photographers will continue to flourish regardless of whether they chose film or digital, and that the very best will be defined by their ability to continue making great photos with either.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Heading into the Wind

Heading into the Wind
Originally uploaded by Warriorwriter
A man fights against tropical storm-force winds and driving rain as he makes his way along the Potomac River in Old Town, Alexandria, Va., Aug. 27. DC-area residents dealt with strong winds and heavy rainfall late Saturday as Hurricane Irene continued her Northward track along the U.S. East Coast.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waiting for Word

Waiting for Word
Originally uploaded by Warriorwriter
Amid a crowd of other Federal employees, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Sue Condon waits for word about the earthquake during an evacuation of Coast Guard Headquarters in Southwest Washington D.C.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Girl and Dog at Café

Girl and Dog at Café
Originally uploaded by Warriorwriter
Taken with a Mamiya 645 1000S on 120-format Kodak Pan-X Plus 125. I used my Nikon D3X to Matrix-meter the scene.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Rain-covered Gear

Rain-covered Gear
Originally uploaded by Warriorwriter
My water covered camera gear sitting in the back of my rental car after shooting Midwest flood response photos in the pouring rain May 2.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuned In, Turned On, Tapped Out

In our class discussions these past few weeks, several themes emerged that help us make sense of how technology transformed social networks in the past, and how it continues to shape the world today. Much of the research we covered suggests that technological innovation has consistently redefined and expanded the complex socioeconomic ties that hold people together. Yochai Benkler delves deeper into this rabbit hole of social and technological interconnection by examining the power of network effects in his book The Wealth of Networks.

Benkler focuses on the reciprocal relationship that exists between technology, networks and economic development. He delves into the importance of networks by explaining how the increasing peer production trend relies on a technologically-driven set of motivations. His findings suggest that while people may be defined by the very technologies that they innovate, they can also dictate the ways in which those technologies evolve.

Benkler argues that as technological advances have slashed economic entry barriers and transaction costs, there have emerged non-monetary, non-proprietary incentives for people to generate and share information. He explains how traditional forms of communication media, like newspapers, suffered greatly during the recent economic downturn because they had high fixed-costs due to the investment required to own a press and distribution network. Content generators were thus compelled to seek monetary compensation or put forward some form of proprietary agenda in order to justify their overhead costs and labor.

However, in the same time period, peer-produced content skyrocketed because the digital information production model demanded much less temporal and financial commitment. As a result people have continued producing content to satisfy needs other than financial gain during the recession. Network effects have also led to an exponential growth in the use of peer-to- peer (P2P) file sharing in the same time frame.

Benkler explains how technological development has led to new forms of media that people can generate and consume without interfering with the consumption and generation of others. “Information, is a non-rival public good whose marginal cost, once produced, is zero” (Benkler, 2006, pg. 85). This paradigm allows for many small groups of content creators to create data sets that rival and even surpass those of large corporate media outlets. Driven by curiosity, personal fulfillment and/or plain boredom, millions of people have become the long tail of the information economy. As a result, the peer production model has emerged as a viable counterpoint to the idea of increasingly concentrated media control.