The Digital (and Conceptual) Crossover in the Visual Arts

ChemoDigital image by Jorge Parra Photography
©Jorge Parra

This discussion comes out of a real aha! moment, after attending the presentation of Howard Herring, President and CEO of the New World Symphony America’s Orchestral Academy , during one of the fantastic Creative Mornings Miami events, under the efficient leadership of Maliks Benjamin

I have previously started a discussion on the impact of digital technologies in the way we do business, and it’s implications in the Visual Arts (see for example http://linkd.in/12i2K0Z), but there is still more to talk: a critical conceptual and relevant element in the discussion was very clearly exposed by Mr Herring in his presentation: the fact that many artists and creators are still having issues embracing digital technologies as the way to create new work.

 Of course, we are the generation dealing with the transition process, and that is already hard and harsh. Many of us learnt our craft the “analog way” and many are reluctant to just switch over to digital technologies.

It was impressive to hear Herring talk about the problems in the music world, all the more so in classical music ( Mr Herring is in charge of developing the right digital tools and strategies to teaching classical music to young musicians, whose interests are mostly elsewhere) and the experience has been quite challenging and yet, successful.

Many other artists, and specially photographers, have had troubles in embracing digital cameras, computers, software, plug-ins etc, etc, after having lived for decades under the analog technologies, shooting in film, chemical processing, chemical printing, manual retouching of both negatives and prints, tons of darkroom techniques to produce “alternative” results, and then, in the scope of less than 10 years, it all changed. Film manufacturing is going to minimum amounts, Kodachrome ceased to produce new film, ( actually, Kodak went out of business!), Polaroid closed doors, and , while still a few artists keep shooting in film ( just the same in the movie industry), most shooters from older generations have had to forcefully adapt, in an attempt to not go down the drain.

It is then when Herring’s presentation brought in a fantastic insight to the state of things, bringing back from the past no other than Marshall McLuhan, a well respected communications visionaire from the 60’s and 70’s. Herring recalls one of the most remembered phrases, “The Medium is the Message”, and even though McLuhan did not even foretold the advent of the internet and the digital revolution, the relevance of his words resonate today more than ever.

Basically, in current terms, we have to understand, absorb and digest the fact that EACH NEW MEDIA IS MEANT FOR AN INTRINSICALLY NEW MESSAGE.

 And here’s a simple train of thoughts I offer to explain this:

Back when the telegram was invented and put to use, communications were brief and to the point ( probably, the first iteration of Twitter). Then comes the Radio, and now the message is not just written word in a few characters on paper, there is now audio, and conversation is “streamed” through the airwaves. Then comes Television, and now the message involves both audio and moving images, generating an altogether new message (or type of messages), that no telegram or radio program could provide. You can, of course interject photography and movies in between.

So here we are, with each new media, a new message was intrinsically created and developed.Then we jump back to current times, with the Internet and all the digital technologies popping out.

We then have to question ourselves: for these new media, which are the new messages?

For the initial years, the term Disruption has been used over and over. Digital is destroying our way of life, or at least the one we have lived through several years/decades. The Digital Crossover is right there, in front of us.

But disruption is the initial stage and things just change and move on. Most everyone was convinced at the onset of the 20th century that Painting was going to die, due to the disruption created by Photography, but then again, Painting just took another, less pictorial, representational road, and thanks to that we have contemporary Painting, well away from Photography.

We then have to deal the realities of living the “disruption era” of digital technologies, the Digital Crossover. As a sad reality, among the visual artists, I see so many photographers still entangled in this recurrent and pointless drama. The fact that so many shooters are just trying to emulate analog photography, while using their digital cameras, is merely a disappointing way to deny the new message that is implicit in digital photography!

The fact that cameras look almost exactly the same may be part of the issue, but when I see so many of my colleagues, for example, longing for grain (and actually, adding noise to digital captures, in order to make them look like grainy film) and so many other complaints about how film photography was soo much better, I only have one solution to their longing: get back to film photography. Use the old media in the context it was developed. Artists and creators can still go a long way creating interesting images in film ( some movie directors, like Tarantino have sworn they will stop shooting movies when they run out of film), but in the meantime, if you are going to embrace digital technologies in your visual art, then get ready and curious to explore a new media, create and produce your own, new/revamped message.

Recently I tried to sit with my teenage daughter, to explain to her the basics of Photoshop, and she flatly refused to go there. She quickly showed me all the editing she does directly on her smart phone, and even challenged me to do it as fast as she does. For her, Photoshop is already old school!

So, for this coming generations, who were born in this digital/technological environment, for them the new media and it’s new message are matter-of-fact. Looks like once again, and more than ever, we have to keep learning from our kids, and stay in touch with the ever-changing technological landscape, as we learn to embrace the new world we are crossing over.

The same applies to so many other careers and professions, from lawyers to architects, to engineers, etc., meaning, we all have to stay in learning and experimenting mode, in order to stay relevant, as the business models also keep changing, sometimes in unexpected and aggressive ways.

My question/challenge to the Visual Artists is: are you willing to explore and craft your new (or revamped) message, as a way to stay relevant in this digital world we are crossing over, full speed ahead?

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About the Author: Jorge Parra is a Photographer who shoots mainly Fashion, Beauty and Portrait  for Advertising, and based in Miami, FL. He is also an Advanced Photography Instructor at the Miami Ad School.  

Jorge’s photographic work can be seen in his spanking new website,  

www.JorgeParra.com.

Specialization through Diversification? Digital Technology is changing the meaning of old tags and categories for Photographers

All Photos ©2014 Jorge Parra.
All Photos ©2014 Jorge Parra.

We are living the interesting yet critical transition period during which most of the analog world is crumbling, and giving up way to an entire paradigm, where digital technologies are replacing the old ways, new rules are redefining many concepts in most industries and markets, changing education, culture, the arts (pls, check our previous posts in this matter).

One interesting case in point is how the definitions of what used to be a “Specialized” Professional Photographer, as opposed to the classic “Generalist” shooter, this guy who used to be the “Jack of all Trades”, have changed in time.

Most photographers who have dealt mostly with Advertising projects have traditionally been more successful when they were truly specialized shooters. Either still Life, or landscape, or architectural, or People/Lifestyle,etc, with a known style have been (and some still are) picked more frequently for large scale productions. “Being in the top of their game” has been a requirement for hiring shooters for national , international and global campaigns.

That is not the case at all times anymore. Photographers who have worked specialized in just one area of expertise are now doing this “cross-over” to often unrelated fields, and success has not left them behind. Add to that that motion works, video and cinematography are now part of the skills required by many demanding jobs, and here you have,  an old concept has totally changed:

Traditionally, the Generalist was the guy who would do (or at least try) to do it all, commercial assignments, weddings on the weekends, family portraits, catalogs, etc,etc, and in most cases, this traditional “Jack of all Trades” was barely capable of producing, mediocre work, and, at best just “good enough” images. Think of it as the TV spot about the couple taking their car to the repair shop, and finding out the mechanic in charge happens to be also their tax accountant… Of course, no one wants that!!

Now, digital technology, in combo with the human curiosity and creativity, opens up a new vision and understanding of what a “Diversified”, Cross-over photographer is and can do, and by all means, is NOT a Generalist no more.

Adding Photoshop and illustration skills (not just retouching), in combo with CGI implementation, (even via team collaboration), the ability to direct people and even inanimate objects in motion sequences, TV commercials, music clips, etc, plus the ability to go from studio to locations, from outdoors to indoors,  from natural to artificial lighting, from people to objects, in a seamless manner, makes them a new type of shooter.

In short, the classic definition of a Generalist is merely a concept of the past. 

The Diversified, Cross-over visual artist is a new kind of creator, full of passion , know-how and sharp as the traditional Specialists, with all the skill sets required for highly demanding jobs, and yet capable to jump from Advertising to Editorial, from Fashion to Landscape, from Portraits to Still Life, and produce outstanding results.

It is important to mention that this is NOT easy to achieve: There is a quite long learning curve for the Diversified shooter, given the demands imposed from the specialty crossover process. New still image processing software, new video/motion equipment in the market, editing software, post-processing understanding and capabilities, plus several production capabilities need to be learned, mastered and performed impeccably in order to be really successful in this new world.

Two relevant examples of the “cross over” photographers, visual artists with with no apparent photographic specialty can be seen in the work of two fantastic shooters:

 Nadav Kander and Platon

Take a look at Nadav Kander’s website. The work is totally different, from portraits, to landscape,etc, there are several styles of work, but all are glued by a vision.

http://www.nadavkander.com/#

Same can be said of internationally renowned Platon, who may jump seamlessly from photojournalism, to Advertising, into Fashion and other fields:

http://www.platonphoto.com

Other successful examples are easy to find online.

One interesting personal observation in this regard, is my personal experience with Advertising Photography: most of the times shooters are called for his/her strong vision on a field, BUT, on some occasions, they are hired (by interesting and challenging creatives or clients) to shoot some project outside their “comfort zone”, and this helps building up a body of work of seemingly unrelated areas, all just unified trough the photographer’s particular vision.

Same thing can happen with editorial work: you can be shooting fashion this week, and next you may be shooting corporate portraits, and next you can be directing a video.

Resolving the production values required to put together such different kind of projects through his/her vision, is what helps the photographer develop the skill sets necessary to perform the cross-over successfully, something the “classical” specialist may not be trained to do.

In conclusion: I feel it is time to say goodbye to the term and related poor reputation of the“Generalist”, and embrace the new, “Diversified Photographer”, the successful Cross-over shooter, one qualified and able to do specialized, high end work in different fields. The changes in meaning and scope may also apply to other creative careers indeed.

About the author: Jorge Parra is an Advertising, Fashion and Fine Art photographer, well known for his ability to work and direct people, and upon the request of clients and creatives, he has diversified his portfolio into other areas, like Architecture/ Interior Design Photography, gaining clients from the Leisure and Luxury markets in the process. All about Jorge can be found in his Visual Hub (www.TheVisualHub.com)