We’ve all grown up with proverbs like, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and “He who has the mic has the room.” If it’s possible for us to take a rather large step back, observe communication at the moment, digest that, it would seem as if we’re on the brink of a new proverb that does away with the pen, mic, and sword, and rather uses the camera as the tool to wield power. Brave New Camera is a new documentary film that explores this power shift, analyzes how photography is evolving and what that means for connections to others and ourselves.
It’s difficult to argue that few things have taken hold of our society as profoundly and as quickly as visual communication has in the past decade. Humans, it would appear, have an almost insatiable hunger for more and better communication. Because of this, the cast emptiness of the universe isn’t quite as empty anymore. There are thousands of satellites in orbit right this minute, and they’ve been put there primarily for communication. What may have begun with Telstar, which the Queen of England in 1962 called, ‘the invisible focus of a million eyes’ (a satellite that allowed events in Europe to be seen in American living rooms live), is so much more now, but the reason behind it is the same.
The volume of information shared now is bewildering, and much of that is photography. Internet-enabled cameras/camera phones hustle the majority of it, and it’s showing that images are becoming almost a language of their own, as we even send a photograph and refer to is as a ‘text.’ Unquestionably, photographs are now a fundamental form of communication – unsurprising as cameras, even as part of phones, are about the most ubiquitous devices on the planet. It’s curious what that may mean for communication going forth, our social identity and much more. The film even suggests this behavior could alter our DNA. Now, before all the quasi-geneticists come out in droves, a little research into behavioral epigenetics may prove worthy.
It’s suggested by one of the directors, McCarthy in an interview with Vantage, that,
Nothing gets adopted in our culture this quickly, unless it taps into a core genetic impulse that we have from millions of years ago…I think that the desire to construct a personality that’s attractive to your social group and raise your status or say something important or just to show people who you are or what you’re doing, it’s a really core part of what it is to be a human being.
That certainly befits the idea that creativity is the new currency, but where does this leave us as actual photographers? What does it mean for our craft when according to McCarthy’s data, more images are made a minute today than in the entire 20th Century? When apps like Snapchat reveals how fleeting and ephemeral images can be?
I can’t actually answer these questions, and neither does the film appear to try to, but rather to evoke the desire to discuss this, coming from a need to. I think as photographers what this says above all else to us today, is that you’ve really got to have something to say, because your ability, to a certain extent is going to be matched with the aid of tech in the near future. So you’ve really got to figure out what makes you unique and compelling, and develop it so your voice can’t be outsourced. It’s one of the reasons I get so wary of recommending photography coaches and workshops to people who ask because I feel most of those people just become a drone replica of that photographer. You’ve got to have a voice.
The film has yet to be released, but you can keep up with progress here. And regardless, it probably is a conversation we all should be having.