Published in New Scientist, 1 Apr 2015
The race is on to reinvent the photo. Will cameras last the distance, asks Jon Cartwright
LIKE a lot of professionals, Laura Pannack isn’t crazy about modern cameras. Granted, the London-based photographer keeps an iPhone in her pocket for the occasional snapshot, but really she likes nothing more than to take out her well-worn Hasselblad and hear the satisfying pah-clunk of a mechanical shutter. “As an artist and a photographer, I do believe in embracing new mediums,” she says. “But, to be honest, I use old technology more than new.”
With cameras, though, what counts as old is relative. Pannack’s camera phone and Hasselblad may be separated by several decades of innovation, but they have more in common than most gadgets spanning this timescale. Both focus light into an image using a series of glass lenses, like every other camera on the market. Whether that image is then captured on film or on the latest smartphone’s digital sensor, it is the result of a technique invented in the 1830s.
Photography has been the medium of the modern age, recording everything from momentous events like Neil Armstrong on the moon and the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square, to Marilyn Monroe on a subway grating and that selfie you took on New Year’s Eve, dressed as an orangutan and with a banana squashed in your friend’s ear. But all that could be just the start, because the way we take photographs and what we do with them afterwards is changing dramatically. The job performed by finely ground slivers of glass is being eclipsed by the work of finely crafted algorithms. As they take the lead, the 180-year reign of the lens might be over. It is a fundamental reimagining of photography and, like an ageing Polaroid, the camera as we know it is fading from existence. […]
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