The winners for the World Press Photo Aware, 2010, were announced earlier today. The grand prize goes to Jodi Bieber, of South Africa, for her utterly resonant image of a young woman with devastating facial disfigurements inflicted on her by a former husband during the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. What was most notable about the Awards, however, was the strong contention of freelance and"opportunistic" photographers, or amateurs with a capture device who happen to be "at the right place, at the right time." Not only were unaffiliated photographers well-represented, but also cameras of all makes, sizes, and types. Cell-phone cameras have seeming broken the barrier; many entrants' photographs, under serious consideration, were taken with iPhones. Just last month, Newsweek magazine published an article on the troops in Afghanistan using photos taken with the ubiquitous Hipstamatic app for smart phones.
There are us photographers out there who know that what equipment you have and use doesn't amount to crap if you're not paying attention to what is going on in the frame. Sure, you can create a big following making 20"x24" Polaroids (William Wegman), but a one-trick pony who doesn't learn new tricks is going to lose its audience, and fast. If you care to argue, maybe it's because you're feeling a little bit raw about the ten grand you just dropped on your shiny new Nikon, while some kid with an Android and a couple of buck ninety-nine apps just won some major international award. Artists have consistently blown the lofty assertion that in order to make great pictures, you need a great camera. Immediately Google Richard Billingham. His series Ray's a Laugh, which was shot with disposable cameras, is one of the most outstanding and ground-breaking series of our time. Don't forget Nan Goldin, either. Of course, you will say, it depends on the focus of your subject matter. I will agree with you there. I'm a large-format photographer by nature. There is simply no replacement for the rich tonality of large-format film. However, I feel like the ease of the digital camera, and especially when in comes in the form of my mobile phone, has opened up new and exciting potential themes that I am anxious to explore. I don't always feel the same with every new camera I try. For example, I never really took to the Holga fad (shock!). But I'd really like to try one of those nifty Rollei minis, when I get the chance.
The point is, quit your worrying and scheming, stop piddling around with all those manuals and courses and seminars, and go take a picture. Take a lot. You might like what you get.
I'm definitely not finished with this topic, but it's a Friday and my brain is fried, and I'm getting ready for a big assignment next week. So, to be discussed further. In the meantime, do look up Richard Billingham, you'll be glad you did.