Is Photography Dead?

Emmy and Palm Tree, North Hollywood

Emmy and Palm Tree, North Hollywood, California, 2009 by Mark Gordon

Obviously not. Rather, has photography in all its aspects been so thoroughly explored and its language so highly perfected that there just isn’t that much left to say anymore?

Are we all just repeating what’s gone before us? Documentary photographers just repeating the same themes that W. Eugene Smith explored? Social documentarians repeating the same commentary as Robert Frank? Is it really possible to say anything about the human figure that Edward Weston didn’t say better? Can we add anything new to Ansel Adams’ images of the West?

Photography has always been a ubiquitous medium, but in the 21st century we are relentlessly bombarded by images. Photography has always been the art of the masses. First, simply as consumers, collecting images of ourselves, our families, celebrities and exotic sites and scenes. But, within just a few years of its invention, the public became the creators as well.

Reese Robinson, July 2010

Reese Robinson, July 2010, by Mark Gordon

And today, the creation is unrelenting. The cell phone means that everyone carries a camera with them everywhere, always. Each of us has enough photographs of our own life to fill a book or even several books. And, for anyone born in the last 20 years or so, the images begin before they could see or even breathe. That the images usually stop before the individual is laid to rest is only the result of changing fashions – hardly anyone takes pictures of the dead today, but that’s because of our social discomfort with the whole idea of dying.

So, my question isn’t really “is photography dead?” But, maybe it is: has the territory been so overrun, the visual world so ground down by millions upon millions of feet treading the same pathways over and over again, that there is nothing of significance left to say?

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