When I was 17 I persuaded my parents to let me build a darkroom so I could develop my own photos. I cleaned out an old closet, installed an enlarger, and split the room up into a ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ part. The red lightbulb and old cassette deck made it my perfect hideaway. I spent hours and hours in there and remember hiding there one whole summer, all day, in the dark.
The first time I took a photo, developed the negative, exposed the photographic paper and then saw an image slowly appear I was just blown away. Controlling the whole process from start to finish made me feel more powerful than anything I had experienced before. I experimented with different types of paper, different chemicals and pretty soon felt completely comfortable in the dark, moving by touch, producing image after image.
Not long after that, Apple introduced the QuickTake camera. It looked like a pair of binoculars, and took 8 photos with a maximum resolution of 640×480 pixels. By that time I had managed to sell all my darkroom equipment and after saving up some extra money I managed to buy one. The first time I went out for a walk and returned with 8 fuzzy but colorful images, and saw them appear on my computer monitor, I was blown away, again.
Forward a few more years to the BlackBerry Pearl. This was the first BlackBerry with a camera built in. I was a prolific blogger already and the Pearl seemed like the ultimate blogging tool. I could see myself writing on the go, taking a few snapshots, and hitting publish like it was nothing. I would compete with CNN. Live reporting was now available to everybody.
Of course the camera was terrible and there was no integration between my blog software and the phone. The keyboard was predictive but unfortunately predicted what I was trying to write in an alternative universe, so nothing came out as I intended.
Pretty soon after that the iPhone came out, and I didn’t ever imagine it would replace my camera. In fact, I bought the first digital Leica and carried it with me for a year or two. But again, my relationship with photography changed. That Leica has been in a cupboard for years now. Since the iPhone 5, which has a spectacular camera, I’ve confirmed to the common wisdom that ‘The best camera is the one you have with you’. And it just so happens that the iPhone 5 is the camera I always have with me.
As I grew up and adapted to ever changing technologies, my relationship with photography has changed too. Photos used to be the things that arrived at your home, three weeks after you returned from your vacation. Their arrival would be an event. My mother would be waiting for us, with those bright yellow envelopes and we would go through them one by one, experiencing surprise, disappointment and joy as we discussed each one. Then my mother would make a selection, glue them into photo albums, and file them.
I once heard a story about how people in Japan would take polaroid pictures when they were out, but then leave the photos on their tables after they left. They used them as little mirrors reflecting them, in the moment, and that seemed enough. At the time I thought that was hilarious, and totally opposed as to how we were using photography. Since then however I can see our photography has changed towards how the Japanese use it. Our photos are often just little frozen moments, posted to Facebook or Twitter, or emailed to friends. I no longer have an archive or photo album.
My kids see taking photos as an activity. Their goal is not to save the results. They’ll just run after the cat holding an iPhone and take 80 photos.They might scroll through them, and laugh at some of the funnier ones, but that’s all. Many of the photos we now take serve no other need than to entertain, inform or provoke a reaction right then. Not later, not for reflecting or remembering.
The next era of photography is just around the corner. You are already using wearable computers, it’s just that you are wearing them in the bag on your arm or in the pocket of your pants. That means they are generally out of sight, and it requires a conscious decision to pull your smartphone out, find the camera app, and take a photo. With wearable computers like Google Glass or even an iWatch this decision would be so much easier that it could become something you wouldn’t even have to think about anymore.
Maybe that will change how we look at photography again. How it will change is unclear but exciting, too. That is why we’ve looked at some of the innovative photography tools out there and have asked a couple of people to use the subject of technology and photography as starting points for their stories.