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A Snapshot Look At Changes In Photography

Digital technology has changed the way we live today, and perhaps one of the greatest examples is photography. InfoTrends predicts that consumers will take about one trillion photos in 2015.

The use of cellphones to take photos has not only changed how and when we take photos but how we share them, as well. What does this mean for the basic nature of photography?

Mark Osterman is a photographic process historian at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York. He talked with  Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about why he embraces digital imaging, but laments that there will be fewer physical images in the future.

  • What’s the best photo you’ve ever taken, and was it digital or film? Tag @hereandnowradio in a post on Instagram and we’ll pick a winner. We’ll put the photo on our website.

Interview Highlights: Mark Osterman

On the evolution of photography

“There are more people making images than ever. The sad part is there will be fewer images in the future… If you think about it, in the evolution of photography, you started making images on daguerreotype plates, copper plates coated with real silver. You made images on glass plates, you made images on metal plates, sheet iron for tintypes. Eventually you made images on paper. And what are we making images on now? They’re numeric. And so essentially there’s no materiality to them unless you actually print them. And if you figure how many people actually print their images, there’s really not that many. So once an operating system changes or a computer crashes or you lose your phone – I mean, figure how many images are on your phone right now.”

On the survival rate of today’s images

“There are more people making images than ever. The sad part is there will be fewer images in the future.”

“The only way to make the photo survive is to either share it with a great number of people, so that’s one way of doing it, and the other way is to actually make a physical print. There are people who do make digital photo albums. They’ll take them to a service or maybe they have the wherewithal of printing them at home with their own printer to make a physical object. But if the image is only numeric, there’s a greater chance that it won’t survive in 30 years, 80 years, 100 years, 200 years, where we’ll still have daguerreotypes that were made in 1839, 1840.”

On the advantages of digital photography

“One of the advantages of digital imaging – and you notice I say that instead of photography a lot – but one of the advantages of capturing the image digitally, is that you can see the final result very quickly, or at least the original capture really quickly. And now you have the choice to go back immediately and take a better image, a better composed or selected focus or however you want to take the picture. You have a chance now that you didn’t have when you shot in film.”

On the decline of film photography

“The world of chemical-based photography is changing quite a bit and you know there’s a part of me that’s actually kind of amazed that we have film, given the progress of digital imaging. The professionals don’t use film anymore. There is a culture of people who shoot black and white film, and a small culture of filmmakers who shoot on film, chromogenic color film, and yet the film industry has made a decision to not release their product as a physical film – that’s numeric now. So the days of color film, it’s really hard to say when that will change drastically to the point that they’re not making it, but my sense is when they do stop making it, when the big wheels stop turning, we’ll never see that stuff again.”

“The only way to make the photo survive is to either share it with a great number of people… [or] actually make a physical print.”

On the resurgence of past technologies in audio and photography

“A lot of people draw parallel between the resurgence of vinyl records, for instance, being a better older technology and will point out that there are people now making vinyl records once again, and pointing to film and saying, ‘well, that could happen with film again, maybe they’ll bring back some of those old films and papers.’ Well, making a vinyl record, that’s a machine you can fit in your basement. To make film is rocket science. You have no idea how complex it is to make color film. It’s probably the one consumer product that is the highest technology. And once that culture is taken apart it will never be put back together again.”


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