Goodbye photographers, hello iPhonographers

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Date:4 June 2013 Tags:, , , , , ,

It’s sad, but not surprising, that the Chicago Sun-Times has dumped its photography staff. From now on, the paper evidently intends to rely on reporters using iPhones.

As reported in The Verge, the newspaper has decided to train staff in using the iPhone to get the picture. Predictably, there’s been a backlash. Are we just being old-fashioned, though, in this era of phenomenal picture-taking ability we can hold in the palm of a hand?

You’d have to be exceptionally naïve to believe that this move is motivated by anything other than money. In the right circumstances, a smartphone can take some decent pictures – in terms of image quality, that is. Getting a memorable picture still demands a good, trained eye. In adverse circumstances, getting a good-quality picture and a story isn’t likely. Trying to juggle the two is a recipe for mediocrity.

Speaking of which, I started my short-lived photographic career trying, with moderate success, to capture sports action using a Pentax S1. Eventually I graduated to the Spotmatic: built-in light meter and 1/1 000th shutter speed… whoa, baby. By then, I’d had the basics of sports photography drummed in to me (“Expose for the shadows – that way, you’ll get the faces”). Not that we couldn’t fix things  with some artful “dodging” in the darkroom. Of course, this was almost entirely black-and-white stuff.

My guiding hand was a father who was a photojournalist in the days before that word became fashionable. He had a thing for Pentaxes; these days, when cameras are churned out by companies better known for cheap wristwatches, photocopiers or portable radios, it’s easy to understate the tremendous impact that the Asahi Optical Company had with its Pentax line. And yes, I know that these days Pentax is “a Ricoh company”.

The last 35 mm film camera I bought was a Pentax K1000, which updated the Spotmatic’s screw-in lenses with a bayonet-mount design. The K1000 was a Ford Model T/VW Beetle/ Toyota Corolla of its day; it remained in production for 21 years, until 1997. The last I saw of that K1000 was when I passed it on to my daughter. Last I saw, she was using a Samsung Note for a camera.

Nostalgia aside, in the fast-moving blogosphere, do we really need a high-definition image worth a thousand words when, within hours it will be overtaken by a million tweets anyway? Probably not, but I can’t help feeling that, in pensioning off the photographers and their bulging camera bags, we’ve lost something. Even if it’s only the apples and sandwiches one memorable colleague from newspaper days used to lug around.