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‘Brave New Camera’ | How Cameras Are Changing Our Lives In Ways We Can Barely Comprehend

By Kishore Sawh on April 29th 2015

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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.

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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?

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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.

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

13 Comments

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  1. Jesper Ek

    More camerans more images more artists!

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  2. Ralph Hightower

    I forget that I have a phone clipped to my belt. But I hate the “focus seek” of the smart phone. I have gotten very few decent photos of vanity license plates while driving or stopped at a red light.

    Shortly after I got my DSLR,, at night, I found it difficult to photograph a very Yellow Suburu with “TWDYBRD”. I handed the camera to my wife, said turn off auto focus; she managed to get the shot in manual focus.

    Another time, I found Jenny of 8675309 fame; that’s what she had on her plate. Focusing was difficult even stopped in traffic and the sun setting in front made it more difficult.

    There was 3.14159 that I photographed near National Pi Day (3/14).

    But in 1994, when I first moved to Iowa for a temporary contract position, I used disposable film cameras to take photographs while I was driving. I’d hold the camera in front where the right eye could still see ahead and fire. After I got my Canon A-1 up in Iowa, I’d have the lens focus set on infinity. The camera bag was between the van’s seats. I’d aim “loosely”, fire, then cock. I have one great photo coming out of a tunnel on I-40 when I was going back home.

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  3. Barry Cunningham

    My wife texted me a photo this morning of the moving van arriving for her mom’s move.
    Kind of a ‘gee-whiz’ video with not much to say beyond the obvious. Could use some lip-synching too.

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  4. robert garfinkle

    When I was little – I remember at school and at camp we had pictures taken, and with the exception of a handful of pictures ( polaroid :) ) in a drawer and / or the pile of super 8mm – that was just my small, small world – I knew of reporters, cameramen (and camerawomen), sports photographers, and any images that showed up in magazines (Playboy, Time, Newsweek, popular mechanics, National Geographic )… In my mind, I thought of cameras in the hands of a small group of professionals. Pardon the expression – limited exposure to photography. that’s who I thought were the only people to have them…. Oh, and the occasional uncle who owned the latest and greatest equipment back then…

    Now, cameras, are everywhere, small, large, fixed / remote / mobile – it’s a wonder some news agencies are letting photographer’s go, as the influx of people who have em, are so abundant, the stories / pictures come from 360 degrees…

    I suppose you can say, to a news agency, a story was something that you went out an sought – now, it more than likely comes to the news agency… because someone has a picture of it… and a story to tell that goes along with it.

    cameras have replaced cops to some degree, and cameras are now on cops…

    we have gone from a society where less that a small percentage had cameras – to the complete opposite, where very few people don’t have one… via the cellphone… and or small, hobby device (goPro) etc…

    similar to the digital age of communications (Internet), which not only got information to us faster, in-our-hands quicker, now, it’s accompanied by a picture (i.e. facebook)…

    it’s almost as if a communication isn’t complete if it does not include some sort of picture…

    interesting observation though – the internet, while a great means of getting information in your hands quicker – does have a negative to it, the lack of direct human interaction… the apartness…

    yet, with a camera, and when it comes to people, its quite the opposite, it brings people together – it’s proof you were there :)

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      “yet, with a camera, and when it comes to people, its quite the opposite, it brings people together – it’s proof you were there :)”

      Unfortunately, people go so far to prove they were “there” that they live through that moment via an LCD screen on a phone or camera. Therefore although they were “there” they remember only the shaky footage or blurry photo.

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    • Graham Curran

      Undoubtedly the game changer has been digital. When I started taking photographs each shot was a fixed expense and you needed to ration your images unless you were independently wealthy. Taking a digital photograph now has no extra cost over the original purchase of the equipment other than storage which is cheap.

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  5. Kishore Sawh

    Hi Thomas, I’m not sure of your age, but I can tell you that many of a middle and high-school persuasion send images and refer to it as a text, and yes at times as a verb, but not always. Anyone can suggest that photography has been used to communicate, but this is speaking more about how it’s used now in place of words. Cheers

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    • Thomas Horton

      I am old enough to remember Pluto as a planet and Indigo as a color. LoL

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    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Thomas Horton is correct in my opinion. Text is now a verb. When people use the word text as it applies to an image there is almost always the knowledge that an image is accompanying it if that’s the fact.

      For example:
      “did you get a picture of it?”
      “yeah, I’ll text it over”

      This doesn’t refer to the photo as a text, it refers to the action of sending it.

      I’ve never heard someone say “I’m texting him/her” when referring to sending only a photo. I commonly hear and even say, “I’m texting him/her the photo.”

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    • Dave Haynie

      I have actually said “I’ll text you a photo” when shooting an image to be sent from a phone’s camera… because most non-tech people think of an SMS message as a “text”, and if I say “I’ll message you” or “I’ll SMS you”, they’ll just stare blankly into space half the time. I would similarly say “I’ll email you a photo” if I was sending a real camera photo from a more substantial computer.

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    • Matthew Saville

      WHAT? Pluto’s not a planet anymore? What happened? :-P

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    • robert garfinkle

      Oh, but I think a small spherical rock in between Mars and Jupiter is… at least that’s what “they” say.

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  6. Thomas Horton

    “we even send a photograph and refer to is as a ‘text.’” I don’t know anyone who does that. Is it that prevalent? Perhaps they are using text as a verb, which is understandable. But I don’t know of anyone who would refer to a photograph as a text when used as a noun.

    “photographs are now a fundamental form of communication” Photographs have always been “a” fundamental form of communication. One of many. I am not sure what the writer is trying to imply.

    I think they are trying to put a significance to photography that is unwarranted.

    More photographs are being taken today because it is easier and cheaper to take photographs than before. More photographs are being shared today because it is easier and cheaper to share photographs then before.

    The movie will have to try a lot harder to justify a greater social significance, in my opinion.

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