Imagine what would it be like to live in a world without photographs. There would be no way to explore different corners of the globe without visiting them, no option of sharing your life with your loved ones, no expression describing a thousand words in a single frame – in short, no visually documented reality.
Today, photography has become an unimaginable part of our lives and has evolved into being a tool that connects us all. In that spirit, people across the world are celebrating 177 years of photography with World Photography Day on August 19.
The world of photography: Before and after
Almost two centuries ago, the “practical photographic process”– Daguerreotype– was developed by Louis Daguerre and Joseph Nicéphore Niépce on this day. Its predecessor, the first ever filming process Heliography, required eight hours of work. Daguerreotype, however, required 20-30 minutes. Today, it takes less than a second to click a photograph and a couple more to get it printed.
Digitisation has changed the way we use, click and see photographs. Cheaper smartphones and DSLRs have contributed towards the upward trend in digital photography and much has been written about the way it impacts photography as an art form.
Speaking to IndianExpress.com, Delhi-based documentary photographer Sharbendu De mentions how the reach and ease of digital photography comes with a price to pay. “Digital photography has democratised the art form as it vests the power of telling stories even with amateurs and people with vested mandates, but it has diminished the quality of narratives. Young photographers reach out for their filters and photoshop tools to suppress their grossly deficient imagery thus letting lot of mediocre stuff float around in the market and the web. This is devaluing the art form.”
De, who has covered seven natural disasters including the 2015 Nepal earthquake, says that the discussion however has moved beyond digital vs analogue photography. According to him, the challenge now is to bring out balanced and nuanced expressions. “The debate is not about digital vs analog, but how images are affecting our memory, thus altering and subverting the narratives. The real debate has to be about using images to reflect the challenges and conflicts of the times in which we’re living. Our work has to reflect that, but by using a more modern day grammar. The visual storytellers have to find ways of getting through our audiences’ blocks, by exploring alternative and innovative communication techniques, in this case using photography.”
His statement holds great relevance as the world currently expresses outrage over the image of a Syrian boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was pulled out from a rubble of what used to be his home in Qaterji, Aleppo. The image shows four-year-old Omran sitting on an orange chair, with bloodied face, dirt-laden body and expressionless eyes. While the Syrian war has been going on for over five years, killing over 4,00,000 people, once in a while, images like these shock the global community and thrust the ugly reality in our faces.
Be it Alan Kurdi, the boy who drowned while his family was trying to flee the country, or Omar Daqneesh, a moment of their suffering captured by the lens transforms into symbols of the brutality of war. It is no wonder that the New York Times received a Photography Pulitzer for its coverage of the refugee crisis.
Apart from being of journalistic value, digital photography has also helped the common man to freeze their everyday moments–anytime, anywhere. Gone are the days when people would have to rush to the studio to fossilise a memorable occasion or celebrate a birth. All it takes today, is a charged smartphone and the patience to pose for multiple photos.
Applications like Instagram and Snapchat have revolutionised the way people use pictures to document their everyday lives or celebrate it. Social media constantly urges people to share the images they see, fuelling the desire to capture this moment and next. Thus, creating a wide ocean of photographs that embark on the journey of photography.