What If We Reimagined Photography?

Why do people still constrain the images they shoot to certain formats like 8×10 or 16×9? Why do frames also come in those sizes? Why do we differentiate between monochromatic and color? Why do digital cameras look like old film cameras? Why why why why?

Why Are There Boundaries?

The incremental, evolutionary funnel creates boundaries for photographers and photography. Why? I do know the answer to this one… We let it. We do what we do because we saw someone else do it. We often buy what we buy because we saw someone else buy it. We buy it because it's something we read about in a photo magazine or learned in a photo workshop. A juror at a photo exhibition tells us we did this or that wrong. Someone on a critique forum says we should do this or that right.

We look for a solution in our photos so we get them to be a little tighter, a little sharper, we look for a little better light and were satisfied with the predictable result. In fact the more experienced we get, the more predictable the results and that is not necessarily a bad outcome.

But what if we reimagined photography?

Reimagine… The dictionary gives us insight into the word reimagine.

  • 1. to form a mental image of (something not actually present to the senses).
  • 2. to think, believe, or fancy: He imagined the house was haunted.
  • 3. to assume; suppose: I imagine they’ll be here soon.
  • 4. to conjecture; guess: I cannot imagine what you mean.
  • 5. Archaic. to plan, scheme, or plot.

verb (used without object), imagined, imagining.

  • 6. to form mental images of things not present to the senses; use the imagination.
  • 7. to suppose; think; conjecture.

How does the dictionary definition of reimagine jive with the notion of evolution rather than revolution? That question is the central thesis in this story and I wish I knew the answer.

I am far too old to reimagine photography. I have practiced it in five different decades and I am happy with MY predictable results. But in younger people I see an incredible thirst – even lust for something new, funky, bold, disruptive. And it is the young people who predictably shift the paradigm. They are less likely to be satisfied with incremental change. They want things to be disrupted. Unfortunately, they often want things to be disrupted for the mere sake of disruption and I doubt that is very helpful.

But to those photographers who truly have a desire to forget all constraints and start fresh, I say good on ya! Go for it.

Every Generation Makes Changes

My generation was mostly satisfied with incremental changes. I suppose in our own way we participated in our share of disruption. We started using scanners and digital printing techniques, eventually doing our post work in Photoshop and not in the darkroom. We started using digital sensors to capture images instead of film. And on a more incremental change, we started (or at least I did) shooting with the final image in mind, regardless of the 2:3 or 4:5 aspect ratio.

But there is no denying that I (and many of my generation) are comfortable with established boundaries – at least some of them. We optimize our image-making to fit within those boundaries because we know how to get a result that pleases us.

But I suspect the next great breakthrough in photography will happen when someone blows up those boundaries. Consider the difference between something like a Sony Walkman and an Apple iPod then an iPhone. Now that was a boundary-blowing change. We probably need that kind of change in photography.

The secret of true innovation comes from knowing that innovation requires us to make something nobody thought was possible. . . to make something that people may not even know that they want, like or need.

Time to Think

I have no answers, only questions. But I have more time to think these days and the questions I ponder lead me to the same general place most of the time. What will this be like 50 years from now? How will (in this case) photography be different? Will we use cameras as we now know them or will that change? Will people make holograms instead of prints? Will the traditional photo slide show still exist?

I have no idea but I find it fascinating to consider the possibilities. I write about it here because I know the vast majority of the people reading this are much younger than me and what's even more exciting – somewhere in that vast majority is possibly the person or persons who will answer all these questions. It would be amazing to see what you all come up with. I am rooting for you whatever it may be.


Photo Courtesy Levi Sim

Scott Bourne is a member of The Board Of Advisors at Macphun, an Olympus Visionary and a professional wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He was one of the founders of This Week In Photo, Founded Photofocus.com and is co-founder of the new Photo Podcast Network (photopodcasts.com.)

Scott is a regular contributor to several photography related blogs and podcasts and is the author of 11 photography books.

Scott is available to speak to your birding group, photography group and for both private and small group bird photography workshops. For more information on engaging Scott as a speaker or workshop leader, or for image licensing and print information, e-mail scott@scottbourne.com.


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