Well I have just received the approval copies of my new book, “The Future of Professional Photography and Photo Education” and sent back my approval to the printer for distribution. I’m generally pleased with the results of what I expect will be a most controversial bit of writing. What was intended as a 50-60 page research paper to satisfy the requirements for my sabbatical for Fall semester 2017 grew into a 216 page book as I grew more and more fascinated by the research into the material and the incredibly complex world in which it lived.
The world of professional photography was already in the ongoing midst of a paradigm shift flowing from digital technology that was changing the whole photo environment. Photographers who failed to realize that the thing in their hands that looked like a camera was actually a computer with a lens hung on it, had no clue as to the speed of increasing computational power effecting their primary tool much less the all-encompassing power of the World Wide Web and internet to effect distribution and exposure both for them and for their clients. Some are STILL pretending it is just a fad.
After all, the previous 100 years had seen minimal changes even in materials beyond some new chemical compounding and brands while the core process flow remained essentially unchanged. Even though a very few visionaries such as Ansel Adams foresaw the digital world, most did not and it blindsided them when it hit.
But now, we are seeing the starting upswing of the ‘toe’ of the soon-to-be very steep curve representing an additional paradigm shift on top of the first one. It is admittedly a lot to grasp; moreover it has been far easier for most to simply ignore or deny such a revision in process is really changing their world. But closing our eyes does not slow down the onrushing storm.
Let me insert quickly that this material may have little influence on the “fine art” side of photography and only a minimal impact on those who like to call themselves “professionals” because they have, now and then over the years, sold a print or two and perhaps shot something for a friend of a friend or managed to get a shot or two published somewhere but do not, and have not truly made a living solely by providing their creative photographic services to clients in various industries. The good news for them is that they may, in fact, be in the enviable position of being able to sit back, watch the convulsions roiling in the real commercial world, and be thankful for dodging that bullet.
Maybe… Maybe not…
This project started for me with the “gut” feeling that our professional world was changing out from under us so I requested the sabbatical leave to allow me time to research and write about it in the hopes that the results might reveal some preparation and improvements in our photo program to keep it relevant. And perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps my “gut” was over-reacting to the new technologies I kept reading about. Perhaps my firm belief in “Complexity Theory” and the effect on large complex systems was inappropriate to this discipline and we were all doing just fine with no reason to worry, much less contemplate drastic changes. Perhaps all of those “dots” I saw either did not exist or even if they did, did not actually connect in a way to influence our world. This research would let me either put the worry to bed or, if it had some foundation, start the discussion to look for solutions and plans.
I initiated the project with this diagram (below) representing the major influences I saw impacting the world of Professional Photography and my growing – and finally overwhelming — confidence that we in that profession were facing a “perfect storm” of disruptive influences – especially from technology, the internet, and the educational system itself — that would combine and coalesce to change our world in dramatic, game-changing ways in the very near future.
Worse, I was becoming convinced that we who were actively trying to prepare our students to enter that world were not even close to being ready for it and, worse yet, that academia in general was largely in denial about the issues rushing headlong toward us.
The research was fascinating and did take me in some unexpected directions. A few issues and emerging technologies I had previously thought of as about to have a major impact turned out to be far less influential and, at the same time, some that had been completely off of my radar turned out to be the source of what I now feel will be major disruptions to our photo-related world.
The “controversial” part implied above comes not from the core data per se, but from the bureaucratic bog that modern education has become. Changes to our program of the type I suggest, while I think of them as essential to maintaining the relevance of our professional photo programs going into the future, are akin to trying to turn an aircraft carrier in a bathtub; even if the will is there, the available space is not. As important to them as any little issues from our program, has been that despite the political rhetoric of economic well being our state is still technically bankrupt, the problem for a college or district is that the economics do not add up. Politicians and academic sycophants talk a good line but the proof is in the money available for educational use… and that has been very limited, at least in terms of what actually reaches down into the classroom.
Consequently, with classes cancelled early, faculties crushed by budgetary restrictions feeding their paranoia to maintain and improve falling enrollments to try to save their own positions, various related programs have moved more and more into their little fiefdoms and adopted ever-stronger siege mentalities, claiming, in displays of ignorance gone to seed, that they may own some specific process, technology, or data stream. Programs that ought to be cooperative and providing their cross fertilization of information and insight have become, like the sad political world in which most of them operate, increasingly divided and polarized.
Many of those wandering our hallowed halls have developed vested interests in the status quo and so will be displeased by any suggestions that indicate that happy stable world is about to disintegrate and needs replacing rapidly and substantively. What I see as an incredible opportunity to explore exciting new artistic options and competitive advantages, some will see as threatening to a safe and secure, if narrow, world in which they work or teach.
But progress and the future is going to continue its march, as it always has, utterly indifferent to our wishes and individual needs. I believe our options are to prepare for it or be crushed by it. As Will Rogers wrote: “Even if you are on the right track, if you just sit there you will be run over.” If we lack the money and the will from above, then we folks down in the trenches have but two options: accept the impending irrelevancy or get creative in finding viable solutions. We claim to be creative types. It is time to put that claim to the test of reality.
I believe the conclusions in the book, barring unforeseen events or technologies coming out of the blue to change everything, have a very good chance of being accurate and that the recommendations are positive and doable, if deeply difficult. So, while I expect some major skeptical, if not out-and-out derisive pushback to the conclusions and recommendations, my core goal is not to win a debate but to start a dialogue, a discussion designed to review the potential that ANY of the myriad influences I cited in the book, may be in play because each of them, never mind all of them operating in concert (along with some I most likely missed entirely), will force some level of change in our discipline and in our teaching of it.
The book is available online and direct from the printer, Lulu printing, at this URL:
To get this discussion underway as quickly as possible if you have any interest in the world of professional photography and/or photo education, I encourage you to get a copy (they are cheap – $16.98), use it to help focus and guide your own research and inquiry, and then lets get this discussion underway while there is still time.
Once my approval goes through LuLu’s system and a global publication database (their site says up to 6 wks), then it will also be available on Amazon and other outlets, but ordering it directly from the printer is faster and can be done now.
I’ve already seen a couple of small typos I missed but do not want to delay the distribution further. If successful with this printing, perhaps a second edition can fix those and also bring newer developments into the discussion.
What should be clear after reading it is that, whether or not you agree about the directions we are headed that I posit in the book, what is inescapable is that we ARE MOVING into some new and uncharted water, first in the work to be required of us as working professional/commercial photographers, and, consequently in the education programs charged with preparing students to enter that new world.
What will be at stake is nothing less than our value as educators for those coming to us to help them prepare for their careers.