Magazine Article


The Digital Imaging Scene

Is this the real Ted Falgout pointing to the approaching Hurricane Rita, or the actor portraying his role in the movie “Oil Storm?” Hint: there’s no Hurricane Rita in the movie. Now the big question: how many other of its predictions were wrong—and how many right?
Don Sutherland

Fortunately, photography for most practitioners is a right, not a privilege. We need neither training nor a license to pursue it, we are unregulated. We are also as devoted to it as we are our cars.

We go to great monuments not to see the monuments, but to have our pictures taken alongside. At every gathering of family and friends, there’s a pause for the picture, and everybody knows when. The group arranges itself to form a composition, almost as if it were a drill. Today’s kids, growing up in a media culture, know exactly how to smile.

Mom, apple pie, automobiles, and cameras. They’re deep in our roots, spread out through our limbs. Like premium beer, they will be sustained.

So as we play “what-if,” it looks like the camera retailer’s on safe ground. Cameras are part of the social fabric. Folks will go on buying them.

And, in a world otherwise falling apart at the seams, retailers will have rare good news to convey to their public. Digital cameras keep getting better. They’re increasingly more fun, infinitely more versatile, and relentlessly better values for the dollar. After all—we’ve been perfecting photography since 1839.

Another device has joined the social fabric. The TV. TVs were considered miraculous, sci-fi themselves, in the time of the Depression. Today we see old ones tossed into the garbage, and everybody has at least two that work. It’s how they get news. How they get entertainment. It’s how they would get instructions, if a hurricane were coming. By TV, and by cellphone.

So cameras and TVs and cellphones are safe from recession, and so, probably, are PCs. They’re all woven-into the fabric, the internet, perhaps at the risk of eggs in one basket, becoming the infotainment portal and the vox populi, our way to shop and do banking. In “Oil Storm,” webcams keep parents lovingly in touch with their children overseas. In real life, it’s also our way of sharing photos—virtually free, against the price of prints and postage stamps for sending snaps to grandma (which we can still do anyway, of course, whenever the spirit moves).

The photo business as such should fare the oil storm well, unless, of course, the what-ifs exceed those shown in the movie, and we go stone-age after all. But photographs are important to people, and easier to preserve than ever. The public can take comfort that cameras and memory cards and hard-copy prints and online sharing are robust because to an extent they’re redundant, yet they remain within budgetary reach.

TVs are in for a complete overhaul, as digital intrudes into the broadcast realm, a windfall for electronics manufacturers mandated by law. But there are TVs, and there are TVs. If a digital camcorder today can be bought for three-hundred, and deliver performance exceeding the best that “broadcast quality” once achieved, it seems likely that digital TVs will ultimately be found in supermarkets. My neighborhood Waldbaum’s has already offered $99 DVD players alongside the toasters and blenders, racked batteries and DVDs.

What about that high-ticket stuff? The HD plasma widescreen blu-ray multichannel wireless you-are-there, your-ears-are-bleeding, home entertainment centers that pass peoples’ time when they’re idle? Won’t everybody still need an SXGA projector for watching the game?

Who can predict? At what point do we know when things cross the line from necessity to luxury? Like Hurricane Rita on the twentieth of September, it’s still in the works.

All we can do is grease-up our umbrella.

All and Nothing

During three weeks in New Orleans and territories south, I met probably hundreds of people, all in some way involved in the recovery. The vast majority were locals, and they all said the same thing: “I lost everything.” A conspicuous number added, “All my photos, and everything.”

No one can lose everything unless they drop dead, even when their entire town has been blown off the landscape. These particular people, working on the recovery, had something left—a sense of purpose. They had boats to salvage, houses to build, institutions to restore. They had whole lives to rebuild, whereafter to get on with. With new value systems, in some cases, perhaps.

While the outfitters of the electronic lifestyle conceivably perceive them as clients, having to start over ‘n all, they’re a different kind of sale. They’re people who need everything, but who discovered that except for purpose, they could survive with nothing.

Are we still playing what-if? What if a lot more people faced something like that?