Smartphone apps: Democratisation of photography?

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The sheer number of photographs that are taken today are at an all-time high.
The question is, can today’s photographs be considered art, or simply millions of ‘captures’ of the mundane?
Will billions of new photographers achieve artistic greatness?

instagram photo
An Instagram photo. Have Smartphone apps brought about the death, or the democratisation of photography?

In previous decades, photographers were required to master the complicated mechanics of non-digital camera gear and the various films and developer processes before they could aspire to create a quality image. Today, with the explosion of camera apps on our smartphones, we’re all photographers it seems, thanks to the smartphone which is capable of producing images that rival those of digital cameras.

Modern smartphone cameras and digital cameras can produce images with very high quality, in fact better quality, than the non-digital cameras of 30 years ago.

At least the digital part of the photograph equation is uniformly excellent. Composition is quite another thing, as they say. That is the human element, the part that defines the difference between a technically perfect image — and a technically perfect image which also speaks to people in a way that we then begin to call that particular image… art.

The rise and popularity of smartphone apps like Instagram, Picstitch, and Twitpic have sparked the age-old debate surrounding the artist, the artwork, and the medium. If every individual who owns an iPhone can download a photography app, splash on a filter, and call it art, have we reached the pinnacle of photographic degradation — or alternatively, have we finally achieved the complete democratization of photography?

A nice example of the introduction of digital photography to capture and highlight a brand campaign was the recent Diesel campaign shot by Creative Director, Nicola Formichetti. For him, the purpose of photography, and art in general, boils down to two factors: immediacy and accessibility.

The entirely digital campaign was broadcast over various platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter — and had the effect of reaching a far larger audience than ever before. If accessibility, immediacy, and ultimately, democratization were the deciding factors, then Formichetti’s campaign can arguably be considered an artistic masterpiece.

Alternatively, we are now capturing everyday events with manic intensity. For many, the goal seems to be to document as much as possible, as fast as possible, with little or no attention paid to the creation of a quality artistic piece.

Has photography morphed into yet another means of over-documenting the mundane?

It’s unclear whether the plethora of low quality image-making will lead to a more visually literate public, or will it simply numb us to the profound effects that well-made images have on us. But, either way, the change seems to be irreversible and will only become more pronounced as time passes.

(Amina Qureshi is social media manager at Switch. She reports on trends in technology, marketing and social media. Follow her on twitter @amooq)

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