Photography in the New Universe


An image is presented. Or, it presents itself. Sometimes, the urgency is in its moment of capture. Something extraordinary or fleeting that will never occur in the same way ever again. At other times, the moment is drawn out, and elongated. Some grow on you and need to be stared at, over minutes and years. Others remain with you for a long time with just a single glance. Yet others are meant to be seen as a series, in a certain sequence, with or without captions or narration, set to music, or the sounds of a place, or in complete silence. Have it any other way, and the value of that image, or images, can easily be lost.

The meaning and value of a photograph is just as much in the presentation as it is within the content and context of the image. The greatest or most popular artists have always understood this relationship between art, the viewer, and the time, space, light and manner in which a piece of art is viewed. There have been many examples of great works of art commissioned and work accepted on the basis of where, when, how and to whom it will be visible. This is not different with photographers. There was a point when art galleries were the only places where one could view a collection of art, or the works of an artist. It still remains an extremely significant way to appreciate art, but it is not the only way.

The advent of printing, making copies, publishing, newspapers and periodicals changed a lot of things. The transmission of an idea quickly and succinctly through an image brought about huge changes for humanity and in our opinions and understanding of each other. Besides, photography had the advantage of having the most universally accepted language, that of being able to tell truths, or at least, a version of the truth. For a long time, editorial photography held a place of pride and respect simply because the images would be visible to a large number of people across a certain duration of time. Then came the internet and social media. They offered a different kind of currency, in every sense of the word. As things changed, so did the speed and manner of how information was consumed. It became fluid. Value systems began to be driven by the viewer, rather than the artist or the establishment.

It was inevitable that consuming imagery for amusement and entertainment gained popularity very quickly, far more than the more serious or classical forms of expression. Regardless of the media or forms available, there always was a bell curve to the normalcy of how it was all perceived and consumed. The needs of those in the largest part of the curve will always seem ordinary, even mundane or illogical to those at the fringes. And there will always be a normal to almost everything that is in public view. Unfortunately, a lot of senior artists misread this as a threat to their ways of being.

While newer forms of media emerged, older ones also became more refined and spaces become more flexible and technologically more adept. For instance, the value that both younger and older photographers seem to ascribe to something in print is very different from the same image appearing online, but print publications, including Better Photography, is available digitally, and is active on social media.

The very latest in the art space is the upcoming virtual universe, or, as Mark Zuckerberg has recently named his version of it, the ‘Metaverse’. A number of artists have already made significant sums of money using the new, increasingly curated, NFT (non-fungible token) marketplace. Basically, this is a way to sell, buy and own digital works of art, including photography, virtually, by using blockchains, digital wallets and traditional banking systems as well. It allows easily verifiable single, limited or multiple editions. In my opinion, this also opens a vast, brilliant space to use digital photographs in a number of fantastically presented ways. As much as I believe in the sanctity and joy that a physical print brings, I am excited by the developments in this space, and believe that digital photography is just about to see a brand new future open up soon.

This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Better Photography.