The age of the photograph
From the selfie deluge to a shot 20 years in the making, a special issue on what images mean to us at a time when everyone has a camera at their fingertips
By the time you are done reading this sentence, more than 15,000 photos would have been uploaded on Facebook. More than 40,000 would have been exchanged on Snapchat, and tens of thousands more would have been sent, seen, saved, deleted, remembered and forgotten on WhatsApp, email, Instagram and the dozens of other websites and smartphone apps that speak in the language of images.
What is this vortex of photographs doing to us? Is it lifting us, teaching us a new way to express ourselves, or is it killing within us the stillness that photos used to represent, the ability to linger on sights and moments?
This issue explores what living in this age of ubiquitous photography means both for us and the photograph itself. It gets into the minds of compulsive selfie-takers (Inside selfie stardom), dwells on where the thousands of photos we take end up (I am a camera) and analyses how images can both enhance and dull our memories (Laughter and unforgetting).
What of the art of photography? How does it cope in a world where everyone is a photographer? Art and artists need to adapt to change. Professional photographers are now finding ways to work Instagram and the like to their advantage (Embracing the Instagram age). In some cases, the omnipresence of images has actually pushed certain banal forms of photography to be more creative. Wedding photography, for example, now involves much more than arranging people in groups on a stage and forcing them to smile (The big fat wedding photograph).
Today, we take photos at relentless speed. But photography can still be about patience and reflection. An interview with Gauri Gill (The art of slowing down) reveals why she spends years working on a collection of images. In a small darkroom in Kolkata, Bikash Bose still manually prints black and white photos (The red bulb stays on).
This issue extends beyond the pages of this newspaper and on to our website, Livemint.com, with three exclusive pieces online. In an essay, Venkat Srinivasan says the art of juxtaposing objects so that they form a pattern of ideas can still make some images stand out from the clutter. Kanika Pal and Sriskandh Subramanian talk about their experience of wildlife photography. And Shamik Bag recounts the extraordinary story of a mysterious collection of books that arrived at an institute in Kolkata courtesy the late American photographer William Gedney.
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