World Photography Day is celebrated on 19 August every year by professionals and amateurs alike. To mark the occasion this year, Guardian 20 reached out to some of the most prominent practitioners of the form—photographers who have changed the way we look at the world by radically reconstituting our visual language through their images. In this special story, on the future of photography, we are featuring inputs by five top names: the Vietnamese-American Nick Ut, who won the World Press Photo Award for his iconic image from the Vietnam War, The Terror of War, in 1973; India’s finest lensman, Raghu Rai; the London-based photographer Sunil Gupta; Delhi’s emerging star on the international scene, Uzma Mohsin; and the renowned British photographer Derry Moore.
‘We must always remain vigilant and true to our craft’
Challenges for photography are many but most importantly, the challenge that’s always been at the forefront in journalism is to present honest, real photos. With digital imagery, anyone who is not trained in photojournalism and in the ethics of journalism can possible fake or pose a photo intentionally or unintentionally. Photojournalism is based on giving the public images as captured by the camera and when some begin to fake photos, the public trust is lost. We must always remain vigilant and true to our craft.
That is why it is imperative for editors and publishers to known where and how the photos were made and who is creating them. With the quality of cell phone photography increasing exponentially and with apps and programs that can add or remove things from an image, we are looking at a disaster in journalism in terms of fake photos if editors don’t take the time to make sure photos published are real.
Back in the days of film, it was also possible, but harder, to fake photos and that has always been a challenge but in today’s digital times it can be much more prevalent. Also back before digital, there were a lot less “journalists” or people who passed as journalists because the medium was more difficult to use. Now everyone with a camera or cellphone can call themselves journalists.
But photojournalism and journalism, in general, has a great future. We can use all the digital technology advancements to our advantage. We don’t have to worry too much about exposure and difficult lighting situations and we can more readily concentrate on creating impacting images. Digital has helped in the creative department since we can see what we capture and right away know if it’s something we can use or if we have to continue taking photos to capture what we want to show the public.
‘People take pictures of junk and call it fine-art photography’
The future of photography is as unpredictable as the future of our lives. Creativity lives beyond conceptual ideas. You see in creativity, the changes and advancements are inevitable and sometimes they can take a very wrong turn also.
In today’s world conceptual photography, fine art photography, a bulk of it is rubbish and repetitive. Nowadays people take pictures of stones, walls, pieces of junk and they call it fine-art photography. To become a fine-art photographer or a painter, one needs years of vision and today’s youngsters are experimenting with digital technology producing anything and everything. The slogan is: it’s different.
The trends come and disappear with time. It is the eternity of things that live forever. Some of the great masters, like Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, produced great work and took photography to another higher level of sensitivity and vision. But today’s fast-food generation is in a hurry to be different. And also, in any art form, there is a time for transition and this is the worst time for photography in the world. In Hindustan, we only follow the West and trendy nonsense.
My photography is not my profession, it is my dharm karm. I explore and wait for the right image and the right time for an image. But the fast-food generation doesn’t have time. They are in a hurry to produce and eat it up and spit it out. That is the trend. Still, the innovations and explorations must go on. Because I am sure some of these young guys when they mature, will begin to realise that there is something beyond the stars. Right now they are in a hurry. They can grab a quick sandwich which can be often without good flavours. A great chef picks up every piece of vegetable carefully along with the spices carefully, which results in a great dish.
Today, the biggest disease is Instagram. Everybody is bitten by Instagram, producing happy, snappy colourful stuff. That’s what is going on. ‘
‘As long as there is an interest, the medium will thrive’
The future of photography as a form is continuously being challenged by technology insofar as cameras keep getting better at taking pictures by themselves. A lot of the printed photography that we see nowadays is digital and usually not made by the “hand” of the creator of the image—the photographer, so to speak. However, the basic concept of drawing with light will remain constant, as long as there is light in the world. I’m interested in the photographic print and the ability of people to tell their own stories via this medium. I’ve been hearing over the last few decades about the demise of this medium. That everything will be on the Internet and everything will be screen-based. However, I am seeing a movement in the opposite direction with both practitioners and audiences becoming more and more interested in the handmade photographic image. Chemistry and paper have certainly not disappeared and will not for some time to come. As long as there is an interest the medium will thrive.
The problems seem to be mainly of cost as the art of making negatives and fine prints become ever more expensive. The democratic move of photography towards its mass usage with the arrival of digital and mobile phones is being undone with a return to the analogue and the handmade print. Its rarity is making it expensive and exclusive once again. What can be done is to broaden the base for access. There are too few points of entry; either schools, colleges or community spaces that are able to provide the necessary infrastructure of darkrooms, chemistry and print-finishing areas where the practice of the art of fine print-making can evolve. India seems particularly under-resourced in this area. Trying to find affordable rolls of film seems to be a problem once again like in the 1960s.
Photography has just being begun to be taken seriously as something to study. It has also now made a place for itself in the world of fine art. Since it’s a many-faceted subject it’s hard to generalise where it is headed in a singular fashion. It’s still very much at the centre of scientific usage as well as being active in the documentary realm of campaigns for social justice. These are ideas that were there in the nineteenth century and are still prevalent today and I believe will still be around tomorrow.
‘No machine can replicate the human ingredient’
The main new challenge for a professional photographer is the iPhone, which has made it easy to take reasonably decent photographs. If I take the same photograph with my camera and also with an iPhone, the latter will often look better. This is because the technology of the iPhone adjusts the balance of contrast and colour automatically. What the iPhone cannot do is make images that can be enlarged when printed, however that will doubtless come.
Whereas the technical achievements of the iPhone are remarkable, the results are no more likely to make good photographs in the artistic sense than ordinary cameras. That is the human ingredient, which no machine can replicate. If photographers don’t train their eyes, they’ll be out of work!
‘Photography is becoming very multidisciplinary’
What is very exciting and new is the intervention of digital technology in photography which has opened up a lot of possibilities. This idea where you imagine the picture being sacrosanct of what has happened is now blurred. Photography is becoming very multidisciplinary. The strong link between the image and reality is not there anymore.
There is a new possibility of actually the translation of imagination through various methods in the medium. Now the idea matters, the story matters and it is not important if you have a camera or not. The form has expanded and there are new horizons to look at.