Wake Me After
The Revolution
 
by Peter Howe
One of the most distressing things about getting older is that you start doing what you swore you would never do when you got older. This can include standing in the bathroom, having no clue as to why you went there, or saying things like: "Iíve been in this business for over 30 years, and in my dayÖ." 

Well, I have been in this business for over 30 years, and when I was young, things were certainly different from the way they are today. Not much changed in photography between the time I was a photographerís assistant, in the waning years of Londonís swinging '60s, until I left Life magazine as a crusty and disillusioned editor in the early '90s. At least nothing changed radically. There were incremental changes, though none of them were good as far as I was concerned. Each year, there was less money for the socially significant editorial projects I loved. Each year, there was less space in magazines for these projects. Each year, there were fewer magazines that would even publish such stories--in their place were the ubiquitous "celebrity" features. Magazines began supplying constant chatter about uninteresting people whose notoriety came from starring in mind-numbing movies, or having tawdry affairs like the one between the body-shop owner (appropriately enough) and the teenage girl who ended up shooting her lover's wife. Not much redeeming social value there. Not like the good old days! 

OK, hindsight is 20/20, but a lot of us look back to the '60s and '70s with nostalgia, when you could make a living as a photojournalist, and feel that what you did had meaning. Unfortunately, some of the people who look back on this "golden age" are photographers too young to have experienced those decades. It is chilling to me to read the bulletin boards and mail lists to which I subscribe, and realize that many of the old fogies complaining about the decline of documentary photography are in their 30s. Interestingly enough, many of the real old fogies, people like Dirck Halstead with his Platypus Workshops, Eugene Richards with his digital video work, and David Turnley with his video documentaries on Nightline, are among those who are focusing on the solution instead of the problem. (Actually, Davidís a middle-aged fogey.) 

Weíre in the midst of a technological and philosophical revolution in photography that is more profound than anything thatís happened to anyone reading this column, however old you are. The Internet is going to affect photography in ways equal to, and probably greater than the invention of the Box Brownie, the advent of the Leica, the perfection of strobe equipment, and the availability of fast film. It will change the way we use photography in our lives, the way we market it, how we produce it, and how weíre paid for it. Maybe Iím subscribing to the wrong lists, but whatís really depressing to me is that the loudest noise Iím hearing is the sound of photographers complaining about how times have changed. Well folks, they have changed, and they will never return to the way they were-- so get used to it.  

If youíre a photographer in your 20s or 30s you may be the beneficiary of this revolution far more than Dirck or me. Weíll be sitting in our wheelchairs in the old photographers home saying: "I told you so." 

Times of revolution are scary. They lack points of reference, and they lack guideposts, but what they present is opportunity. When the chaos that is our industry today finally straightens itself out, it will be apparent who took advantage of these possibilities, and who spent the time wringing their hands. My biggest fear is that the hand wringers will end up teaching photography students, and pass on their message of negativism. When I was an art student, the art world was going through a revolution called Pop Art. At the same time I and my fellow students were making fiberglass molds and spraying the resulting constructions with automobile lacquer, we were also being taught egg tempera techniques by a woman with the glorious name of Prudence Bliss. Fortunately, nobody took notice of a word she said, so little damage was done. But, if our educational professionals donít have the flexibility to respond to the roller coaster ride that is occurring in both the production and marketing of photography today they will be doing a grave disservice to the next generation of photographers. Not only will we be training them in obsolescence, but we will also eventually turn them away from the profession through sheer frustration they will experience. When I look at the curricula of some of the photography courses and workshops available there certainly seems to be some justification for this fear. 

I guess we will have to rely on the arrogance of youth to come to the rescue once again. They never listen to a word anyone over 30 says anyway. 

Did I just say that? I donít believe it. If my old dad is on the celestial Internet he must be laughing like a drain. 
 

Peter Howe 
Vice President 
Photography and Creative Services 

e-mail peterh@corbis.com 
http://www.corbis.com 

 
 
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