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"It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” Eve Arnold, American photojournalist

Over the last few years there have been discussions among photographers and the art world about the impact of technology and the future of photography.  Of course, consternation about the digital revolution seeps into pretty much every aspect of business and life these days.
Some Historical Background: After struggling on the sidelines of the art world for decades, photography began to gain artistic and institutional acceptance in its own right in the mid 20th century.  Before that time, photography had had advocates and various “schools” that portended to photography as art (see pictorialism for example), but its broad acceptance as an art, took time to evolve.

People questioned whether photography was art because photographs come from a machine that shows us real life. That machine, the camera, has always been rooted in technology – originally chemistry, today, digital.  And, in that regard, photography has always been changing.  The advent of the Kodak Brownie took the camera out of the professional hands and gave it to everyone.  Polaroid cameras removed the dark room.  35 mm cameras were more accessible, and the advent of color film caused much hand wringing over whether color photographs were art.

Recent Questions about Photography's Place:  Recent debates about photography have gone beyond the mere technical issues of software manipulation and quality of film versus digital capture and prints, to questions about the place of photography as an art form itself.  The question today is about whether the ubiquity of images across digital platforms renders photography as an art to the dustbin of history.  Has photography been buried under its own weight -- its’ value lost in its own accessibility and its’ permeation in our lives.  We are inundated with photographs from advertising to news stories and virtually everything else, because images garner attention and are remembered.  Everyone has a smartphone camera in their pocket all the time, easily enabling a constant stream of photographs of everything from selfies to breakfast to family vacations and sunsets at the beach.  They are all uploaded to web (by one estimate about 3.2 billion images a day) where they are “liked” and then scrolled by --  scant of attention or really being looked at on those small screens.  Few of them ever printed, lost to the the digital ether.

Sean O’Hagan at the Guardian put it this way “Photography reflects, records and advertises our lives online. Is it, though, exhausting itself through its very ubiquity, losing its meaning in an age of almost unimaginable image overload?”

Exhibits and a Burst of Creativity: On the other hand, galleries and Museums are mounting more and significant photography exhibits related to both modern and “classic” photographers: the Whitney exhibited the Kamoinge Workshop and DaWoud Bey; The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts exhibited masterpieces from its’ photography collection to celebrate a hundred years of the art; The Metropolitan Gallery revisited its contemporary photography collection; The Museum of Modern Art showcased new photography, 2020 and Brazilian Photography,1946-1964; and, the Getty featured platinum photographs. 


Richard Artschwager's Live in Your Head, 2002

In addition to a significant number of photography exhibits at major museums, photographers have also unleashed their own creativity using the camera, software and other artistic tools.  The photographic process is being explored in various forms, perhaps like never before.  Some photographers have returned to, or mixed and matched, traditional processes with new technologies. Digital manipulation has been used as part of the process of using photography for other creative expressions.  Photographers are exploring different “installations” rather than the traditional ring around a gallery.  Artificial Intelligence is being used to generate images on demand that can be used in new ways.  The use of photography can be found in sculpture, abstraction, collage, deconstruction and diary, as much as it is in documenting day-to-day things. 

Perhaps, as O’Hagan notes, “one could argue from this evidence that photography is the medium of our time, not just defining our globally connected digital image culture, but propelling it. Even a decade ago, no one could have predicted the seismic shift that has occurred in our relationship with – and use of – the photographic image.”

I think anybody who spends time with photography, there’s no question that it’s vital and valid and ongoing and it’s not going anywhere. It may be changing, the definitions of what people look for in photography, may be changing, but the idea that photography is over is absurd. – Vince Aletti, curator, writer, and photography critic

Going Behind the Scenes... or when the photos aren't everywhere
aving just highlighted the ubiquity of images, sometimes the photographer actually ends up with virtually nothing. A little behind the scenes story for you.  Last month I had plans for making some photographs in Baltimore.  I thought I would come away with a lot of material.  The stops included:

  • The famous Domino Sugar sign which went up on the harbor in 1951 and was one of the most recognizable landmarks in Baltimore. It is part of the 30-acre Domino Sugar refinery, a facility that produces 14 percent of the nation’s cane sugar …it was last minute entry to the trip and if I had done the research, I would have learned it was being “rehabilitated and modernized”
  • The community of Dundalk, a community that was built in 1916 to house Bethlehem Steel shipyard workers, where I only came up with a bowling alley.
  • Sparrows Point, which in its heyday in the mid-20th century, was the largest steel mill in the world, a ship building facility and a company town. The mill stretched 4 miles from end to end and employed 30,000 workers.  Sparrows Point included an area of about 3100 acres. I knew most of it had been torn down, but google maps made it look like there were some interesting shots to be had, and roads to roam.  The roads were all closed. The Amazon, Under Armour and other warehouse and distribution centers were new and huge. I should have tried to capture them
These 3 images (above and below) are pretty much all I got.
Binhammer Photographs Website

Roadside America Stories
Memorial Day -- the D-Day Memorial

The National D-Day Memorial, in Bedford, VA.  

After scaling the bluffs...onward with the wounded. 

Many medics were to be dropped behind the lines via the airborne offences.  However, Airborne medical personnel were as badly scattered in the air drops as everyone else. In the 82d Division 50 percent of the medical officers were unaccounted for during the first seventy-two hours of combat; in one of the 101st's battalions, which landed in swamps, only two members of a sixteen-man medical detachment initially rallied with the unit.  

During the first hours on the ground, medical officers and airmen collected what supplies they could locate. They made contact with other paratroopers, gave first aid to men injured in the jump or in glider crashes and in the first firefights, and worked their way toward battalion assembly areas.

Some groups, forced to maneuver to avoid Germans or driven from their positions by counterattacks, had to leave their wounded behind to be captured, frequently along with medical personnel who voluntarily stayed with their patients. Medical officers and men who reached their battalion assembly areas set up rough-and-ready aid stations, usually near their unit command posts. At these stations improvisation was the common practice, as surgeons scavenged for supplies and commandeered farm wagons and captured enemy vehicles to collect wounded from widespread company positions. Source: US Army Center of Military History. Visit the D-Day memorial website.

Hope your Memorial day weekend (and for the Canadian friends, Victoria Day weekend) serves as a kick off to a great summer.
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5807 Harbour Hill Place, Midlothian VA, 23112
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