For all the talk about creative seeing and the art of photography, the technical parameters of picture-taking and making have, for the most part, been defined by manufacturers of camera and photographic supplies. That wasn’t always the case; in the early- to mid-nineteenth century, scientists and motivated amateurs tinkered away, developing the optics and chemistry that made the early and various forms of “handmade” photography possible. Once large corporations like Kodak began to dominate the market after the 1880s, however, the artisanal quality of photo-based images gave way to more standardized photographic thinking and products. And the truth is that most consumers have been grateful and happy to take the path of least resistance, purchasing the cameras, films and print-out options most readily available to them.
But now—with digital technology rapidly and radically changing our relationship to photography—we are increasingly encouraged and enabled to exert greater control over the images we need and make. And what may prove to be the 21st century’s first photographic tipping point has just appeared on the horizon. Researchers at Stanford University announced that they are introducing opening sourcing for photographic technology. Instead of being forced to live and work with the propriety photographic technology that’s doled out to us, we will soon be free to create innovative digital applications for cameras and picture making, just as people already been devising thousands of new apps for iPhones and other personal digital devices.
Given our growing visual sophistication and interest in controlling how, when, and where we’re represented photographically, things are bound to get interesting as unprecedented photographic options develop. Purists who fear we’re in too much of a rush to jump over the fence that’s defined photographic “truth” are only going to get more nervous. What some people are promising will be Photography 2.0, others are already demonizing as rise of the “Frankencamera.”
What can, or do we really want photographs to look like? It looks like we’re going to find out, soon.