There have never been so many photographs taken. With so many of us now using the latest in “smart” mobile phone technology (we use the term “smart” in quotation marks because is there really anything that smart about supporting an industry that is helping to destroy the planet?), we have, it seems, all become photographers. In fact, through various mediums like Instagram and social media in general, photography has perhaps never been so popular. Yet this is not to say the overall quality of photographs has improved. In fact, the proliferation of “everyman” photographers has perhaps changed the way we perceive what is – and has been – one of the most important artistic mediums of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Psychologists have argued that our reliance on smartphone cameras to take photographs of ourselves and of our lived experiences is both narcissistic and damaging to our personal memories. While studies show that people who take “selfies” are more likely to be psychopaths, the fact that so many people now choose to photograph their food instead of eating it, and choose to film or take pictures of the historical monuments they visit, beautiful natural landscapes they see or nights out with friends they experience, has also been linked to a psychological misremembering of lived experiences. In other words, our reliance on smartphone technology to see the world for us means we don’t actually take in what it means to be alive. We are denied the experience of living.
This is an incredibly disturbing concept, especially since photography has been one of the most important cultural phenomena of the last century or so. Not only does it allow people to communicate what is important to them through angles and perspectives we would not otherwise see, it also helps preserve history, facilitates communication and – when done truly artistically – moves people in ways that words sometimes cannot. While a picture of someone’s bacon and egg brunch will not change the world, the camera in the hands of, say Steve McCurry, Annie Leibovitz, Robert King, David LaChappelle, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange or Mark Seliger, truly can make us stop and re-evaluate the way we see the world; the way we think about everyday life, or even the grander existential ideas that we are faced with.
Photography, in short, matters. And while modernity’s narcissism may muddy the waters of the way we perceive the art form, it is critical we do not lose sight of its potential to help us see the world more clearly. To imagine a world devoid of photography as a genuine art form is to imagine a world lesser in its cultural impact, seemingy halved through the loss of its reflection through the expert’s camera lens. There are few other artistic mediums that help us to process and reflect reality – even though there are also so few other mediums that, through its proliferation and adulteration, are also able to obscure reality so fundamentally.
There is clearly therefore a delicate balancing act that we must contend with when we think of photography as an art form and as part of our everyday lives. When photography was first invented two centuries ago, it was hailed as a revolution in terms of the way mankind perceived both time and place. And it is undoubtedly true that the visual impact of photography is a vital instrument to all of those people who seek to evaluate the world and make sense of it. Indeed, as a potent symbol of what is and what is not significant, the photograph can work in ways that language simply cannot.
The French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson once said that “it is an illusion that photos are made with the camera […] they are made with the eye, heart and head”. It certainly seems true that it is the ability to feel and think as well as see that makes a truly great photograph – for through this we are able to engage in the adventure of examining reality, making the familiar strange and vice versa.
A wonderful example of this is the work of Vagabond Images – the photographic collection of the photographer Mike Dodson. The myriad different styles of photography available, from mysterious, emotional urban landscapes to vivid depictions of the natural world, right through intimate portraits of human beings – in all their intricate, flawed and magnificent states of being – the collection contains within it everything that photography should be.
You may have noticed we are pretty big fans of this photographic work – as we’ve been featuring a small collection of the images in this very article. You can treat this as a sneak peak of what’s on offer. We love a good sneak peak as much as the next person, after all.
The really good news here is that Vagabond Images will be hosting a pop up gallery in Walthamstow, London, on the weekend of the 25th November in Mirth, Marvel & Maud. We here at Nothing in the Rulebook thoroughly recommend you checking it out. After all, it’s a proven fact that photography makes you 62% better (better at what you might ask? Well, just generally better). Don’t take out word for it of course – check it out for yourselves!