It was 2008. I sat on my bed at my first house unboxing the most beautiful phone packaging I had seen to date, the Palm Pre. It was a phone that captivated me and one that I had researched thoroughly before buying. At the time, I had to choose between the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Microsoft and Palm platforms… and of all them, the Pre was for me.
(Now I don’t want you to think this is a phone or camera review, they are merely microcosms that tell the journey along a path of complexity and rampant vested importance to one’s gadgets).
I loved the Pre, through all its quirks and workarounds. I can remember that whenever I would use my phone, someone would ask what kind it was without reserve or predetermined judgement.
The same could be said for the camera I used, which at the time was the Nikon D3. It was the camera that sparked my intrigue to breadth of dynamic range that existed within a file. Sure, files of the past had held data that was beyond our visual acuity, but this was a camera that flexed within the gamma range and made the now cliché HDR imagery possible within a single frame.
My life was simple.
As time progressed, I fell into the craving that is now commonplace of, “the next big thing.” It was the first time in my life that I started to see excess income on a grand scale, so I had to have the newest and hottest phone to show off. First it was Android, then it was iPhone and then newer iPhones… it didn’t end. However, it wasn’t good enough to have said phone, I had to have a certain pride about it that founded itself in a self-reliance that my money was well spent and my phone was better than anyone else’s. God it was shallow.
I can remember downloading stupid apps just to show people what my iPhone could do… “see the TV, watch me change the channel with my iPhone because I don’t want to use the remote that’s sitting next to me.” The apps began to become free’er and free’er. Soon I had every social media app on page one of my phone so that I could make sure I knew everything going on in the world and could out-knowledge the person that sat next to me on the plane flight with what I learned from Reddit.
And if proving I was special in person wasn’t enough, I could take pics with my phone that I could edit the hell out of (also on my phone), and then post them to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with some kind of hashtag like #WorkHardPlayHarder…. Because narcism is nothing if not fed regularly. After all, it was monetarily free to have the app and only costs you your privacy and the ability to enjoy special moments in life without telling the world about them.
After a while, the need to “keep up with the Joneses” led to the established camps of iPhone and Android. Companies like Palm, Blackberry and Nokia were what your parents used and totally not cool enough to be seen with. Sure, they served a purpose, but what it was, we didn’t know because they didn’t even have an app on them to control the color of your indoor lighting. As the companies died off, people almost jubilantly proclaimed their loss, without contemplating the people that lost their jobs alongside them.
We had chosen our fate, and with that crowned Android and iOS as the winners of the war that we created. As artists, we could tell everyone that we used the iPhone because of its camera and how it was always with us and comparable to a DSLR. The very same words that would be used to us by clients wanting to negotiate a budget down to a pulp… “can’t you just shoot it on the cheap with an iPhone, I hear they are equivalent of a real camera?” The irony in this one cuts deeper when they whittle your budget further and then hire someone they saw on Instagram that will do it for free.
I can still remember reading the headline in the news of Marissa Mayer (the former CEO of Yahoo) declaring that there were no longer professional photographers. It was a statement that made me cringe when I read it and resulted in me never using Yahoo again. In a way, she may have had a point. Not long after, the Chicago Sun Times fired their entire photo staff (including Pulitzer Prize Winners) in exchange for writers using iPhones and wire sourced images. More great talent was lost in the battle of the Professional vs the Hip/Cheap.
However, there came a point at which the switch was turned off in my mind, and that was the Boston Marathon bombing. I can remember staying up into the late hours of the morning/nights with my detective hat on, scouring Reddit, along with the rest of the millennials. I knew that the internet was more powerful than anything that the real-life detectives could do, and I would revel in each new post that contained some kind of crowdsourced clue. I was so assured in the forums ability to out-solve the police that I watched in pure shock as the FBI had to preemptively make an announcement to protect the lives of the two innocent kids we had found guilty and began sentencing for already. I was sick.
I began to step back and look at what I had become. Yeah, I had some sponsors and some famous photos, but it was never enough. I couldn’t enjoy time with friends because I was sitting on Facebook non-stop while hanging out, reading posts that either made me jealous, pissed me off or made me feel terrible for a friend or situation. Even worse is that I was in a state of limbo from not being able to post my true feelings on a subject because it would violate a term with one of my sponsors. So, I posted topical things like so many other photographers like ‘hey, check out how many lights I have on set today…’ which let’s be honest, is just MARKETING SHIT.
A side note if I may… If you have ever read a photographer’s Facebook feed or blog and thought, “wow, he is always so busy.” It’s because he wants you to think he is. All too often, people think I am shooting daily, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. For an advertising photographer, we spend more time marketing and negotiating than physically being on set.
This all brings me back to that night I was sitting on the bed opening the Palm Pre.
Life was simpler, more enjoyable. Yes, it wasn’t as high tech as it is now, but it didn’t need to be. We had differences of opinions, but embraced each other as humans rather than fight with whatever truth suited our argument. Showing our photos was genuine in its nature to share our art, for real artists were still a thing. To be a photographer meant you had to sacrifice money and time to pursue craft… not just add a filter and try to get people to click “Like.”
To fix the predicament that we find ourselves in means that we must first agree that there is indeed something to fix. It means backing away from Facebook in exchange to being present with your family and friends. It means giving up Reddit to support a newspaper that still has true journalists (people that have degrees in journalism and don’t accept cameras from companies in exchange from good reviews). We must accept and embrace difference. Whether it is cameras or phones, be open to the idea that someone is using what they use because it means something to them. I use BlackBerry phones because they make my life simple and help me separate my work time from time with my wife. This doesn’t mean that I think someone using an iPhone is wrong, it means that what I have chosen what works for me (these are not competing theories, they are choices).
Decency and honesty have a place in our lives, however to embrace them we must be willing to say they apply equally to those with which we agree and those we do not.