A Day in Paris

Paris, August 17, 2017

Has photography become too easy? I’m thinking it might have. The question, I guess, is, even if it has, why would that matter?

I’ve illustrated this post with photos I’d taken on one day, August 17, 2017, a day I spent chaperoning a first time visitor to Paris. The day started bright and clear, with increasing cloudiness as the morning progressed and, by afternoon, threatening rain.

I hadn’t even thought to take a camera with me. The day was just to be a day seeing the usual sights. Of course, I had my iPhone with me, and during the day, as much as habit as anything intentional, I took a few photos of things that interested me. Some were shot using filters – I presume I just chose a random filter for the hell of it – and others were post-processed in Snapseed on my phone.

Now, I’m not claiming any of these to be portfolio quality, but in reviewing them, I’m amazed at the quality and diversity of output I got with a simple camera phone and some free apps, all in a day’s walk around town. We used to expend a lot of time and energy and creative angst to get similar results back in the film era, weeks and months of hard labor both on the street and in the darkroom….and the results were indicative of a photographer possessed of technical competence and creative mastery. Back in the film era, the results below would have been the product of innumerable creative decisions about cameras and formats and films and developing and printing processes. Now, it’s indicative of a guy with some apps on his camera phone.

So, I’m not sure what argument I should be making…is this a good thing or a bad thing?


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14 thoughts on “A Day in Paris

  1. mrkranky1957

    I feel your pain.

    I have a similar opinion when it comes to creating music and people who claim to be musicians.

    I have invested decades learning my musical instrument and mastering my performance skills. Now, with a computer and some free software ‘anybody’ can claim to be a musician.

    Technology has simply lowered the bar. Even the process of ‘creating’ music has been transformed by technology. A band is no longer required. Hours of rehearsing and recording to get a good ‘take’ is not necessary.

    Is contemporary music creation better for it? On the whole, yes. Is there great new music being published, yes. Is there more throw-away music being published, definitely. Is it hard to find the great music, harder than ever.

  2. Mark

    From the perspective of a viewer, surely in the end it is only the results that matter? The means and medium matter only in as much as they shape those results.

    Conversely, from the perspective of the photographer there any many reasons for choices that are made, rational or otherwise, and very often I enjoy the process of making photographs that I never intend to show in public.

    It seems to be that everything in photography inevitably comes back to the questions “who am I shooting for?” and “why do I want to take pictures?”. I still do not think that I understand the answers to those questions myself…

    1. mrkranky1957

      I must respectfully disagree.

      Mount Rushmore is simply a sculpture, if where it is (on the side of a mountain) and how it was carved were not considered.

      The Grand Canyon is simply a river, if we fail to acknowledge it’s size, depth and it’s age.

      The photo of David Scott saluting the flag on the moon is simply a patriotic photo if we don’t accept that he’s standing on the moon and how he got there.

      Context is everything.

      The where, how, why, who, and what, are the properties that give a ‘thing’ intrinsic value. They imbue a sense of importance that transcends the ‘thing’.

      Then again, maybe it’s just a dude saluting a flag…

  3. Keith Laban

    Much depends on what is meant by photography becoming easy. Sure, any doughnut can pick up what have now become computers, set ’em up not to fail, press the button and let the camera do the rest. The result more often than not would be correctly exposed, sharp shit, but we know that action has precious little to do with successful image making.

    And, would any of us want it to be easy? Easy would suggest self satisfaction, a facile process leading to a facile outcome. If ever it feels easier than it should then surely, don’t we know a kick up the butt is needed?

    So, has photography become too easy? My life and certainly that of my wife would be all the more relaxed if it were so, but I doubt either of us would really want it that way.

  4. Pieter de Koninck

    Yes. That’s a good thing, but there are drawbacks. Pretty much anyone can easily emulate techniques and processes that would have taken time and skill to master, but I think that leads to creative stagnation. Gone is the stimulus and ability to create anything new, since the end results are created by predetermined “filters” not by the eye and mind of the photographer who knows, explores and experiments.

    1. Daniel Castelli

      With all due respect…how could you not go out with a (how do I phrase this..?) “real” camera?
      My wife would need to sedate me if I was in similar circumstances.

  5. Rob Campbell

    The point, surely, is that it’s about the photographer?

    Your pictures prove that yet again. As does context and content: Who be the Steve and Jane I see on posters? He is identified, but not she – and if it not be she (as in Russell), at least it makes me think about her, outlaws and even of Marilyn.

    Photography can represent both fantastic technical achievement as well as poor technical achievement, but in both cases, its impact and relative value, to mean anything, must be accompanied by something that stirs the humanity within us.

    Indeed I feel a sense of loss that my mastery of film and papers no longer counts for squat; on the other hand, my old digital cameras can give me all my present photography requires.

    Personally speaking, I think that of the pix that you posted here, I prefer by far the black and whites. It’s just that from the personality profile that I have constructed for you from over here, they fit that better.


  6. Nick Davis

    Dare I say it, at the risk of sounding like a flatterer, you produce good pictures easily because you are a good photographer. Even more importantly, you engage your brain before you press the shutter. These two small things are beyond the majority of users, even the owners of quite sophisticated cameras, never mind camera phones.

  7. eric d

    It reminds me of a book from the mid 80’s, “La Photo” by Jean-Loup Sieff and Chenz. First part , technical by Chenz and second by Sieff more about seeing, that’s the way i remember it. The book concluded on a appendix containing 40 or so photographers profiles. Lartique, Newton, Boubat, Bailey, Doisneau and others. They were answering a short “questionnaire”, i remember one, “what would you do if you won a million” and Robert Doisneau wrote something like: Buy an instamatic and be highly paid to make pictures”. I think he would like the iphone.

    As usual the pictures you are presenting are strong and interesting, we can see the intent but what about the craftmanship. We know you can produce fine art print but i doubt it can be done with a file from a phone.

  8. Dan Castelli

    Way back in the last century, before our daughter was born (she’s now 33) my wife & I were starting our holiday shopping. We crossed an intersection, and there was a pair of legs poking up from a utility opening in the dead center of the intersection. They were surrounded by a safety barrier. I turned to my wife and said “That’s a funny picture.” Of course, I snapped to my eye my Nikkormat fitted with my 35mm w/a Nikkor and took the pic. Not. You see, I didn’t have my camera with me. Since that day, I have carried my camera everywhere. I have a Leica CL in a small camera bag w/2 rolls of film. I just had my routine colonoscopy and the camera was tucked in my clothing bag. Just in case a situation presented itself. So, to walk the streets of Paris or _____________ (you can fill in the blank.) without a camera is incomprehensible to me. I do have an iPhone, but I think of it as a phone, not a camera. That lapse in logic is my fault.

  9. Malcolm Farrar

    Yes, making images with an iphone is easy; all one needs to do is press a button and be done with it and then move on. But taking photographs is harder. Nevertheless its fun.

    With my iphone I usually record things I might forget, such as the title of a book spotted in a bookstore window or an article in a magazine, but never consciously to make memorable photographs– I’d rather just go for a walk, which is what I did today, no camera no bag, just me. My wife remarked, ” where’s your camera?” such was her reaction to normally seeing me with one!

    I prefer my film camera for the aesthetic of film and the way it renders, but it’s never easy to go out and make poetic, interesting, provocative, amusing or profound photographs; this takes time, patience and an eye for it. But it sure is fun trying.

    Also, it’s not easy to make a beautiful image with an iphone. To my eye they sometimes render flat overly sharp images and converting them to black and white doesn’t always work.

    For the record I shoot digital some days and film on others with a camera as the mood takes me. The iphone is for phoning my wife if I get lost. Bringing home a sublime image or two is hard and impossible if you don’t have a camera! But the fun was in the process; where’s the fun of iphone photography? It’s a horrible tool which which to take photographs..hard to hold, fingers always get in the way and the focal length is useless for many things.

    I suppose what I’m saying is you should have popped an Olympus XA2 in your pocket and a couple rolls of film if you didn’t feel like using your Leica, then all those images above would have made it look all so easy. Thanks for sharing them.

    Let us not lose the fun of it all.

  10. Lee Rust

    It’s nice that digital imaging makes it so easy to get a good look, but context and content are still up to the human holding the picture-taking gadget. The iPhone didn’t tell you where to point and when to tap.

  11. Wayne

    I don’t know. But the subject is always fun as a distraction.

    I frequently go back and look at my film images. All of them. The digital captures? Not so much. I don’t claim to be able to distinguish between digital and film in others’ images; but once I discover- by any means- an image is digital, the greatest praise I can muster in my own head:…”it could have been a great photograph.”

    I guess I will crack open Barthe, again, tomorrow; see what it conjures this time.

    “Has photography become too easy?” Hell! it has never been so complex. 🙂


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