In this week’s New Yorker, John Updike reviews The Art of the American Snapshot, published by The National Gallery of Art and Princeton University.
Its a fascinating book about how snapshots pervaded and changed our own perceptions of ourselves and our lives; but it made me think that if the ubiquity of home photography had such a pervasive impact on our culture, what will the ubiquity of video cameras do to us? And by the same token, what will the ubiquity of video cameras do to video itself? We are surely poised for a change.
There are, according to the BBC, nearly 200 million video cameras in circulation globally at the moment. That is a lot of cameras – but, (and this is an important but), there are more than 3 billion cell phones in circulation, and as cell phones begin to gain video capacity, it is not unreasonable to project that a decade from now, there will be more than 3 billion people who will carry video capability with them on a daily basis. Not only video capability, but the ability to immediately upload those video images to the web.
We used to think that 500 channels was a lot of video to deal with, but I think we are rather a the very beginning of a kind of ‘videoization’ of society, if you will.
The Brownie camera, shown above, brought back memories to me, as it was my very first camera. You loaded in a roll of b&w 120 film, a few twists on the nob, and you were off. As were millions and millions of other people, producing, quite literally, billions of images.
Eastman’s revoltion was to transit photography from a very difficult, expensive and specialized medium to one that any aspiring 9 year old could operate and any family could afford. The result was that photography went from being something rather special to the most common of events. Photographs became snapshots, and instead of being an art form, and highly stylized, became instead the way we recorded our lives – not or publication, but for ourselves to share with our friends.
Prior to Kodak, photography was for the elite, the wealthy, the newspapers. One went to a photo studio to have a formal portrait done in a sitting, coiffed and carefully lit. After Kodak, photography lost its ‘specialness’, but in it sheer commonality gained a very different role – it became highly personalized.
Now SONY and soon NOKIA, are doing to video what KODAK did to photography – making it common.
Professionals will decry the terrible quality that these amateurs produce – and there will soon be an unstoppable tidal wave of their video. (Just imagine 3 billion cameras going 24 hours a day). The ‘specialness’ of video images will be washed away. Video will become ubiquitous. (And I don’t mean home videos of the family vacation – I mean all video all the time).
What will it look like?
What happens when the rare becomes the everyday?
In ancient Rome, one might spend their entire lives without ever seeing a piece of paper. Paper was extremely rare, expensive and difficult to make. Written scrolls were highly prized and carefully guarded and protected. Today, we cover our walls in paper (literally). The Sunday paper would have cost a thousand lifetime’s income in antiquity, Today, we read a few sections and then wrap fish with it.
Soon video images will be as common as wallpaper – in fact, they may indeed be wallpaper. But certainly as common as photo images. Look around you and see how many photo images you see – advertising, magazines, newspapers, walls, kitchen refrigerators.
This is where video is headed.
You push the button, we do the rest.