Throughout history, technological advances have brought about changes in art, and these changes have engendered debate about the very nature of art. If a process becomes too easy, does it still require skill? If a machine is doing much of the work is the artist still the author of the shot? Is the purity of artistic vision destroyed in the age of mechanical reproduction?
Photos used to be precious. Taking a photograph took money, patience, special equipment. It took hours or weeks to see how the image would turn out. People used to have special ways to keep photographs, little frames and boxes they would carry their one or two precious pictures in. Now we have phones loaded with snapshots. It used to require time and patience to take a photograph. The process was half skill, half luck in capturing the perfect moment. Now it’s mostly luck, the camera (and a collection of filters) takes care of all the rest, and we can snap a billion shots a day. We have a much higher chance of capturing a randomly beautiful moment.
I’ve been thinking about this quote I scribbled in my notebook a few years ago. It’s from René Clair, a filmmaker and writer who worked at the very beginning of cinema. He wrote essays about this miraculous new art form and described how passionately he felt about the direction it should take. He held it as a great responsibility to make films a certain way that would ensure that cinema lived up to its potential. Here’s the quote…
- In this era, when verbal poetry is losing the charm it exerted on the masses … a new form of poetic expression has arisen and can reach every beating heart on earth … a poetry of the people is there, seeking its way.
It’s easy to feel judgmental and discouraged about the overwhelming barrage of messages and photos and news and information that we receive every single day, whether we like it or not. It’s easy to regret the days when a letter or a photograph was a rare and precious thing. It’s easy to be sad about the bloated, disappointing state of American film. But maybe it’s better to think about this new endless procession of snapshots, which capture an instant, are taken in an instant, and are shared in an instant, as a form of poetic expression available to most, and capable of reaching every beating heart on earth. Equal parts hopeful and foolish. But often beautiful, immediate, intimate.