A Digital Darkroom
A dark room filled with chemical bottles, clothes lines, and curing art was once the realm a photographer reveled in. Now, the photographer’s world is no longer rooted in the light-sensitive dark rooms of the past, but is found on the backlight LED screens of the Digital Age.
The modern age of technology has dramatically redesigned many jobs in our current economy, but none as dramatically as that of the photographer. The evolution of this fine art medium has not only changed how photography is captured, but who is capable of pursuing this field.
One photographer, Stephen Christopher was born within the time of traditional photography, but has watched the media evolve into the Digital Age art form it is today. Mr. Christopher first found his love for photography while growing up in his hometown of Southport, England. Inspired by his father and his favorite comics, Spider-man, Mr. Christopher was seldom found without a camera or tripod in tow. Even as a child, Mr. Christopher knew he wanted to pursue photography as his career, and soon began that journey at Southport College for the Arts in his hometown in early 2000.
Mr. Christopher grew up with traditional media often using 35 mm film and slides. During his first few years at college, digital photography was becoming more popular, but the prices of cameras made it a niche market. However, as time passed Mr. Christopher soon learned that he would be faced with one of the greatest conundrums of his career- potential unemployment.
Mr. Christopher soon learned with the rise in popularity of the digital camera especially the SLR series cameras that more and more people were taking up photography and fewer people were paying photographers for their shots. Photography has always been a profession in which photographers could become gainfully employed in various avenues of the field whether they worked with the news, portraits, high-fashion, weddings, or events. Now professional grade cameras can be purchased for under one thousand dollars. Mr. Christopher remarks on how the digital technology and the digital camera has affected his career in our interview, “Photography is one of those professions that has changed more than most. It has been a blessing and a curse. On the negative side everybody now thinks they’re a photographer which consequently means less business for me. But most people know to leave occasions like weddings to the professionals because they don’t want to carry that kind of responsibility on their shoulders. Claude Adams said best when he remarked, ‘Having a camera makes you no more a photographer than having a hammer and some nails makes you a carpenter’” (Christopher 1).
Constantly competing for photography jobs is something that Mr. Christopher soon learned to accept as part of this era in his art form. Novice photography enthusiasts soon cut out the market for portraits, news photography, and even family photos. Many photographers from Mr. Christopher’s class who were not able to adapt to the evolution of photography soon found themselves working retail or other less desirable positions. Changes in social media, mobile phone photography, and other technology have made more photography jobs harder to come by. Many news stations began accepting amateur photos to avoid paying photographers, because amateurs would accept fame as payment enough. Mr. Christopher’s dreams of being a web-flinging photographer for the Daily Bugle began to dwindle with each new Nikon SLR that rolled off the shelf.
Mr. Christopher, like most employees who have been forced to evolve with technological adaptations to their positions, embraced the digital camera with some hesitation. While no longer being forced to purchase film or spend hours in a dark room developing photos that may or may not be acceptable to a client, Mr. Christopher still approached digital photography with some trepidation. Mr. Christopher like most photographers, harbored concerns about the low-resolution images the first cameras created and the high price tag the cameras carried.
However, once Mr. Christopher moved past some of the cons of the digital SLR he began to embrace some of the more positive aspects that both technology and the Internet provided his profession. “Computers and Image manipulation has drastically changed the way I work. Before, photographers had to know their cameras, films, shutter speeds and everything in between. There used to be no second chances in photography. If you screwed up the shutter-speeds or aperture settings the negative would probably be useless and you wouldn’t get paid. Now with digital cameras it’s all changed. You can fire test shots and visually inspect the image and histogram and alter the camera settings to get the shot right” (Christopher 1).
By embracing technology Mr. Christopher became a master of image manipulation and restoration something he may not have taken up without the technology readily available. Mr. Christopher is now not only able to offer specialized “green screen” backgrounds for clients he can also repair severely damaged photographs. It also doesn’t hurt that this roguishly handsome man uncannily resembles Johnny Depp.
Mr. Christopher is also enjoying creating visual effects and manipulation that before Photoshop, Lightroom, or Illustrator simply were not possible. For example, if a family photo was perfect except for someone closing their eyes or turning their head, images can be laid on top of one another in layers providing the perfect photo for clients.
Mr. Christopher soon found that his love for all things Photoshop was not the only way in which to incorporate the technological changes into his art form. The Internet and websites like Model Mayhem gave Mr. Christopher the means to find models willing to trade prints or digital copies of his work for free modeling sessions. Mr. Christopher could simply make an announcement or request for a particular model type and within hours or sometimes minutes work with an aspiring or professional model that suited the shoot he planned.
One such model and actress who worked with Mr. Christopher, Bianca Barnett, has also been affected by the changes in technology and computing. A veteran model Bianca is impressed by how easy it is working on a set which she touts makes her world so much easier, “I no longer have to wait for prints or a reshoot if there is something the photographer doesn’t like we simply do it again –right then and there. I love it! It helps me so much to be able to see exactly what I did wrong instead of waiting to go through proofs day after day” (Barnett 2).
Models and other artists of their ilk are professionals who have benefited greatly by technological advances in photography by being able to sign up on websites or even upload their own photos. Barnett says she has more work now then she did when she began modeling some years ago simply, because of the ease of access of finding shoots and photographers. Websites like Model Mayham, Suicide Girls, Modeling.com, Models.com and hundreds of other similar sites give models access to agencies, photographers, and showcasing opportunities. Barnett is plainly accepting and amorous about the way her field has changed in her eyes it is all for the better.
In contrasting opinion, Mr. Christopher’s mother Linda does not like the changes made to photography. Lisa believes that her son’s job has become even more difficult despite the information availability and instant proofing of his shots. Linda is simply used to traditional prints and film, not giving much credence to iPads or Flickr. Mr. Christopher often laughs when he tries to explain the differences to his mum, and seems to take her baulking with a grain of salt. He understands that she simply wants something tangible, because for her it seems less real if she can’t hold prints in her hands. Linda has been exceptionally ecstatic at all of the photos her son has in numerous papers and publications in England.
The marketplace for Mr. Christopher’s work soon expanded with the onset of photography sites like Flickr, Photobucket and a plethora of others. Instantly, Mr. Christopher could upload his work to potential customers and employers both with visual portfolios and keyword tags making his work easy to find. The ability to host his own images on his website also changed things dramatically for Mr. Christopher giving his work a platform that reached the entire world instead of only his local area.
Another platform that has enabled Mr. Christopher to recover from the lull in his career was the introduction to a website called Etsy.com. Etsy gives artists worldwide the ability to sell their art in a public forum to customers who may not have normally been able to find such art. A similar platform that grants funds from philanthropists across the net is KickStarter.com which Mr. Christopher uses to gain funding for various projects. KickStarter allows him to fund his artistic journey when photographing social or political issues that appeal to him. Once the project has been done, Mr. Christopher can even revert back to print form using services like Snapfish or Blurb, so that he can appease his most discerning critic- Linda.
And then there was social media. Facebook, YouTube,Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, WordPress, and Google Plus flooded the Internet and suddenly everything changed for Stephen Christopher. Now with a few “likes” and “retweets” his business was booming like never before with the ability to simply share his images and ideas with the world.
In addition to most of his social media, Mr. Christopher also created tutorials on YouTube about his digital photography and reverted to his former love of the darkroom. Sharing his experiences online about film, developing, and processing gave Mr. Christopher the best of both worlds – light and dark.
Whether Stephen Christopher is flipping through Flickr on his iPad trying to persuade his mom that pixels are better than ink, or networking with clients on Facebook his beautiful images will continue to dazzle the world. Unemployment for Stephen Christopher was simply not in the cards.