I witnessed the birth of digital and I attended film’s funeral.
Here’s how it was for me. I was there.
My first encounter with computers was in high school in the 1970s and the experience was remarkably annoying. I really had no idea what punch cards were for and the only words that ever came off the ancient dot matrix printer were ‘illegal command.’ A few years later in college during the early 1980s the only contact I had with computers was to make fun of the geeks in the computer lab as they struggled to learn programming languages like C++, Cobal, BASIC and FORTRAN. Had I known then that by the 21st century those guys would basically own my ass, I’d of been nicer! I should have learned coding.
When I graduated college in 1982 I was fortunate enough to have a corporate job waiting. It was an in-house corporate/industrial photographer job but it was also so boring that at about six weeks into it, I started looking for other, more creatively satisfying work. The unfortunate thing about that job was that it only lasted three months, a glorified summer job. I got ‘laid off,’ but when I lost that job I had another one lined-up because I’d already been looking.
While looking for that second, post-college, post-corporate job, I’d been peeking over the horizon to the not-too-distant-future and I really felt that computers would intertwine themselves with photography pretty soon. I could see the digitalization of photography coming. So, despite the low pay I took that job after getting sacked from my corporate ‘summer job’ and when to work for a company as a photographer and computer artist. This was 1982, eight years before Adobe Photoshop 1.0. I worked that job for less than two years and the industry changed significantly during that very short time.
The company provided computer-generated and optical slides for corporate slide show presentations. Most of their clients were banks and we created a lot of computer-generated slides of pie charts and graphs and boring things like that for financial meetings. Occasionally a client would need photographs included in the slide shows and we used a FOROX optical printer to create those slides. There never were a lot of FOROX operators in the world but I’d been trained in the late 1970s and had experience with the FOROX and that’s what got me the job. Once I’d been hired and proved myself as an experienced optical printer I was really anxious to get trained to use that big computer down the hall.
That computer was a Genigraphics 100B and it filled an entire room. I don’t know the exact cost of the thing, but I heard numbers in the quarter-million dollar range. Now, by today’s desktop standards, that machine is a POS, but it 1982 it was amazing state-of-the-art tech. If memory serves, the hardware was from General Electric and the graphics software came from NASA. The graphics were 2D and we could use only 256 colors. The whole darned thing ran on an IBM-DOS mainframe. The computer had a small color monitor, a digitizing tablet (not unlike the Wacom Tablets we use now, but the pen was wired to the tablet) and there were a series of buttons on the left side of the digitizing tablet. Those buttons were the closest thing we had to a graphical user interface at the time and by pushing certain buttons the computer would do certain repetitive tasks (today, in Photoshop, those things –scripts— are called ‘actions’). I recall the last button in the row was to refresh the screen. I have no idea about the RAM or video cards of the day but a fast computer artist could do a lot of work while not seeing anything on-screen. Then by clicking that fourth button the screen would refresh (which took a few moments for processing) and the artist could see his latest work. All of our client’s works were stored on 8-inch single-density floppy disks that held a whopping 256k of data.
Some of my early Genigraphics works 1982-1983
This is the very first wholly computer-generated image ever published in advertising.
Dale O'Dell 1983
Next to the darkroom was another dark room that contained a film recorder –something we don’t hear about much anymore. A film recorder is a really cool device with a camera lens and a hi-res video monitor that converts the digital data to scan lines that are exposed onto film. Most of our work was output to 35mm Ektachrome slides (we had our own in-house E-6 lab) that were projected during those banking meetings.
A graphics computer, a film recorder, a FOROX optical printer and an in-house photo-lab; this was all way-cool state-of-the-art stuff for 1982! As a 23 year-old fresh out of college, top of my class, with a photography degree, I had at my fingertips the most advanced creative tools in the world. I had a head full of ideas and was set to charge headlong to The Future of Art, but the company I worked for had much more pedestrian ideas.
Already, in 1983, I could see the vaporware beginning to solidify; it wouldn’t be long before what we were doing would ‘go desktop.’ The IBM PC was already two years old. I felt that within a few more years the companies’ core business, chart and graph graphics, would be gone. Predicting that simple graphics would move to the desktop computer I felt that the evolution of our business would be creative illustration for print. When I expressed my futurist views to management they shut me down, nobody was interested in what the kid thought. They so much didn’t want to hear what I had to say that they put me on the night shift, alone, so I wouldn’t bother anyone. It was the dumbest thing they could do to an employee like me.
Nightshift work for the computer graphics company entailed proofreading and fixing any mistakes made during the day and revising last-minute slides. All this was sent to the film recorder followed by processing the exposed film. Developed film was edited and mounted in slide mounts, collated and packaged for delivery. I absolutely hated the night shift (don’t work by night, don’t sleep by day) but I could do my job in four hours or less leaving me at least four hours a night to do my own creative work and experiment! And I did!
While alone with the technology I did quite a number of things that ultimately furthered my own career as a computer artist and special effects technician:
- · I created a portfolio of creative computer-illustrations. Although the company had no interest in this, the market was interested.
- · I developed ‘hybrid’ photo-digital artworks using the Genigraphics computer to create CGI elements that I combined with photographs using the FOROX camera.
- · I spliced a 36-exposure roll of Kodachrome 64 into the middle of a 100-foot roll of Ektachrome and tested the film recorder’s ability to image computer graphics on the more archival Kodachrome film. (Too contrasty.)
- · I used multiple-exposures in the film recorder to render images with more information than could be recorded in a single exposure.
- · I created CGI images using two exposures, one for the main image and a second exposure for ‘glowing highlights.’ I programmed the film recorder to ‘pause’ between exposures and would go into the (totally dark) film recorder room and place a sheet of diffusion material over the film recorder’s CRT and make the second exposure. The resultant double exposure would have ‘glows’ that otherwise couldn’t be achieved digitally.
- · I photographed various textures that could be sandwiched with text or other slides and duplicated using the FOROX camera creating a ‘grunge’ or ‘distressed’ look which predated any layering in Photoshop by more than two decades.
I pushed the technological/creative envelope as hard as I could and did a lot of creative things that the company had no interest in. As a result of my ‘personal productivity’ while working the night shift I was able to take my new wiz-bang, razzle-dazzle, computer-generated portfolio and:
- · Pick up creative freelance work that I would do on the companies’ equipment at night. (This is the work the company wasn’t interested in nor did they believe the work was out there.) I used the money to supplement the low pay from my ‘regular’ job.
- · I printed some of the works and exhibited them in galleries.
- · Used my new CGI work to obtain a contract with a Stock Photo Agency. (At a time when 200+ images were required ‘for review’ for an agency to consider you, I was offered a contract after showing only four computer-generated illustrations, nobody had digital art at the time but me.)
One of my first photo-digital hybrid images
Genigraphics + FOROX
Photo-digital hybrid image done for OMNI Magazine, 1987
After a little over than a year I had to leave that job despite all the hi-tech, wiz-bang, way-cool gadgetry. The pay was so low I was barely getting by, management was incompetent and I could see that their business model, which would remain unchanged, would fail sooner than later. (The company went out of business in 1986.) Before giving notice I ran all my digital files though the film recorder and got everything on film, and I copied all my digital data. At the time I didn’t know just what kind of computers I’d get my hands on in the future, but I knew I would, so I was prepared. For the remainder of the 1980s I rented time on others’ workstations, outsourced some work to photo labs that had Genigraphics equipment or the very similar Dicomed computers. I continued to create hybrid photo-digital works using an optical printer of my own design. Often my optical works were mistaken for digital works (something I allowed my clients to believe) and I stayed competitive in the marketplace until Adobe Photoshop came around in 1990.
FOROX optical composite (1979)
In 1991, one year after the commercial introduction of Photoshop, I attended a week-long workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico and learned, then Mac-only, Adobe Photoshop 1.0. Although we were manipulating photographs I still had an advantage over my fellow students because of my background in the computer-generation of artwork, and I was already familiar with film recorders. In 1991 we were outputting our work on film; the Epson printer wouldn’t come along for a few more years. Aside from learning the basics of Photoshop, I learned about scanning slides and negatives, which was extremely important as the digital cameras of the day really weren’t ready for primetime. When I left the workshop I was reasonably competent with Photoshop but so poor I could not afford to fully ‘go digital’ until 1994 when Adobe Photoshop 3.0, the first PC version, came out.
The only computer I could afford in the early 1990s was a well-used IBM 286 with a monochrome monitor which I used primarily as a word-processor and to generate labels for 35mm slides. In retrospect, as much as I wanted to be an ‘early adopter’ my inability to afford the hardware saved me from wasting a lot of money in an era when we were learning our way, RAM was godawful expensive, and upgrading was nearly constant. Some photo labs were acquiring Macintosh-Photoshop workstations and I continued to rent time on the equipment as needed.
I’ll be honest. We didn’t know what the fuck we were doing with digital imaging in the early days –but we really, really wanted to do it.
During the pre-digital camera era we scanned our film to get the image into the digital environment but in the early 1990s there were very few viable desktop scanners so we went to service bureaus for drum scans. Kodak was a great help with this when they introduced the Photo CD in 1992. But early on we hardly knew what kind of file to save; do you want a GIF, or maybe a TIFF? The JPEG was not yet available. And on what media do you store that newly scanned image? Even then digital image files were too large for floppy disks of any size. New removable media hit the market like the fragile SyQuest SQ-400, 42 megabyte Data Cartridge which we used early on. There were some tape-drives available. I recall using a thing called a Bernoulli Box to bring scans to the studio from the scanning service bureau. (The Bernoulli Box technology would eventually morph into the Zip Disk.) After the Zip, Iomega brought out the larger capacity Jaz Drive, which failed in the marketplace. Eventually the cost of CD burners came down to the point where they were affordable to the average consumer so we used them extensively. This was all long before DVDs, USB hard drives, USB thumb drives, Secure Digital, or Compact Flash cards, or ‘the cloud.’ These were days when even ‘fast’ computers were slow and RAM cost upwards of fifty dollars per megabyte. For a long time I kept working optically because accomplishing the same thing digitally was just too damn expensive!
The movie industry was way ahead of still photography when it came to computer-generation and manipulation. There’s a lot more money in movie-making so it’s logical that the film industry would embrace ‘digital’ early and in a big way. In 1982 the movie “Tron” was released. “Tron,” though dated-looking today was utterly groundbreaking at the time. What most movie-goers didn’t realize was “Tron” was mostly digital-looking rotoscoped optical effects and not computer-generated at all except for some of the backgrounds, which were done by Genigraphics. I was doing almost exactly the same thing when I was combining Genegraphics computer-generated elements with photos using the FOROX camera to create photo-digital hybrid images. Two years later, in 1984, “The Last Starfighter” was released. All of the spaceship and space battles were computer-generated. Again, today, the space scenes in “The Last Starfighter” look like aged, 8-bit video game graphics; a lot has changed in the last 30+ years. In another two years Disney would release “Flight of the Navigator” in 1986. This movie also featured a computer-generated spaceship but the cool thing is it was chrome and reflective. We were all amazed at the texture-mapped reflections moving along the silver-chrome spaceship. In 2001 we were equally amazed at the moving, computer-generated fur on the creatures of “Monsters, Inc.”
Throughout the 80s and 90s we saw computer-manipulation and computer-generation of imagery move from the laboratory, to the university, into industry and ultimately to the mainstream consumer. Some other players of the early days were: Scitex, Silicon Graphics, Quantel Paintbox, Gerber Systems Technology, Intergraph, Lexidata, Bell Labs, Boeing, NASA, JPL, Digital Graphics Systems, Spectragraphics, Computervision Corporation, Raster Technologies, Chromatics Inc., Dicomed, Electronic Information Services, Aurora Systems, and Cranston-Csuri. Some of America’s finest research labs and universities were working on computer-imaging, both in the art and physics departments including: MIT, Rice University, Sandia National Labs, New York Institute of Technology, Oxford University, Purdue University, State University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and the University of Houston.
By the end of the 20th century, thanks to digital technology, a new art form was born –Digital Art. You’ll only read that here because I’m the only one who’s put a date on it –I was there, so I know a little something. Art historians are late to the digital party.
Some 1990s examples of early Photoshop works
My early Photoshop works look similar to my previous optical works.
It took a number of years work to adopt a 'digital aesthetic.'
By 1990 we had clunky Adobe Photoshop 1.0 and the writing on the wall became permanent. Photography was 'going digital.’ By 1994 we had Photoshop 3.0 for the PC and the new version included layers. By 1995 I retired my optical printer and began doing special-effect and composite work digitally. But we weren’t quite there yet…
It would take almost a decade for commercial clientele to catch up. Nobody could handle a digital file for reproduction, they still wanted film. I found the workflow a little strange, but that’s the way business was done at the time and I had no choice except to adapt. We were at a film in – film out stage with digital image-processing in the middle. I was sending 35mm film out for scanning (usually the inexpensive but practical Kodak Photo CD format), doing retouching and creative ‘darkroom’ work digitally with Photoshop, and then outputting back to film. In a few more years I’d bring scanning in-house with a Nikon 4000ED scanner, but I never acquired my own film recorder (very few of us did). That meant going back to an expensive photo lab/service bureau for outputting to film. After trying virtually everything there was at the time I settled on outputting to 8x10 inch film using Light Valve Technology. The ‘LVT’ was basically a great big film recorder and I could output to very impressive 8x10 inch Ektachrome color transparency film. I think the cost of those 8x10 inch transparencies was over $200.00 each back then so I began creating files where I would gang 4 to 6 medium-format size images on one piece of 8x10 film to bring individual image costs down. We’d then deliver transparencies to the client or stock photo agency which, for reproduction, were scanned and printed via offset printer. It was an expensive pain in the ass which, thankfully, went away when our clients caught up and ‘went digital’ themselves and then we could just send a digital file.
But then there was printing, which was still catching-up. We could make LVT negatives or transparencies and take them into the darkroom and make B&W, Cibachrome or Type-R prints but it added an additional generation, an extra step, and expense. What was needed was a way to go direct from the computer to a digital printer and skip the chemical darkroom step. In 1991 Nash Editions opened shop. Started by musician and amateur photographer Graham Nash, Nash Editions used rare, expensive and state-of-the-art-for-the-moment IRIS printers which were early Giclee' printers. (Giclee' is a French word for ‘sprayed ink,’ which is the same thing as Inkjet.) Quality work by Nash Editions proved the inkjet process viable for digital printing, even large-scale and, even more importantly, they changed the perception (especially of the museum and gallery folks) that a digital print could be a viable end product and not a mere ‘proof.’ Nearly a decade later, in 2000, Epson brought the first Archival Pigment printer to the market, the Epson Stylus 2000P, and now an artist could make their own, exhibition-quality fine-art print right in their own studios. The next generation of Epson (and Canon) pigment printers upped the quality of B&W printing to rival a silver-gelatin print from the darkroom.
By the first decade of the 21st century a modern photographer or ‘digital artist’ could afford to bring every step of the digital imaging process in-house and have total control without using any outside technical services. My own system consisted of the computer with built-in CD and Zip drives, a large CRT color monitor, a Wacom digitizing tablet, a 35mm film scanner and a pigment inkjet printer. That computer had an impressive 128 megabytes of RAM, today box-stock computers come with gigabytes of RAM! That computer was superseded many times by 2017.
By the year 2000 ‘digital’ had a stranglehold on photography. Already darkrooms were disappearing and computers running Adobe Photoshop began filling the void. Darkroom skills were giving way to ‘learning an application (Photoshop).’ Film wasn’t dead yet but it was facing mortal competition from newfangled digital cameras. I recall seeing some early prototype digital cameras and they were awful, and expensive, and low-resolution. I was at a meeting at my stock photo agency in New York and met a photographer who was all impressed with himself because he had one of those new digital cameras. I ask him to show me the thing and the poor guy couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on, much less take a picture! Yeah, I’d be using film for a while yet. One hitch in the workflow was time. Because of digital technology, business was speeding-up, deadlines were tighter and things had to be done faster. Time constraints were problematic with the normal delays of sending film out for processing and then sending the resultant slides out to be scanned. Life would be so much easier if the pictures out of the camera were already digital. Digital cameras needed to get better, and they did!
After watching that goofball in New York struggle just to turn on his digital camera I decided I would not be an early adopter of the digital camera. I intended to wait until they got better, faster and cheaper. Besides, I already had every film camera and lens I needed, I was in no mood to start buying new cameras all over again. Eventually I had to…
My first digital camera was a 3.3 megapixel Canon G-1. I bought it in 2000 for the too-high price of $1000.00. It wasn’t a SLR but the image on the tiny preview screen was from the sensor, so it was like an SLR as I was seeing the image through the taking lens. 3.3 megapixels isn’t super high resolution, a straight print from the camera might hold up to 8x10 inches or a little bigger, but at the time I think about six megapixels was state-of-the-art, so it wasn’t far off. My intent was to use the camera in the studio to photograph products against a chroma-key background and paste the product into another, higher resolution background photo. This worked fine for a while. Digital cameras were evolving faster than an aggressive tumor but I resisted upgrading every time something new hit the market. I recall camera resolutions rising from 3 to 4 megapixels and then to 6 (I upgraded to a 6MP DSLR). Next was 8 megapixels and I got one of those, then 10, 12, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22. Today my maximum-resolution, full-frame DSLR is a 22.5 MP beast and it’s been superseded by cameras with 50 megapixels and more. I even bought a 4 MP point and shoot camera with a Foveon sensor just to see how those images looked (good sensor, slow processor). In the beginning of the digital camera sensors were small, so you lost your widest wide-angle lens and that was a problem –especially for a guy like me who favors the 20mm! We got our wide angle lenses back with new design super-wide-angle lenses and full-frame sensors that kept a 20mm lens at 20mm. Fortunately digital cameras are not as fragile as I’d feared early on, but they are decidedly un-sexy. Digital cameras are little more than processors with lenses and my original Canon G1 was as much of a brick as my fifty year-old Argus C-3.
From a historical perspective the ‘digital revolution of photography’ took about fifty years, from the late 1950s to the early 00s. From the perspective of the consumer the ‘digital revolution’ took only about a decade, from 1990 to 2000. Rapid evolution; or at least it seemed that way to the consumer. I consider myself, and my contemporaries in the field, to be bridge artists in that we began our careers at the end of the film/analog era, came of age during the transition and will end our careers fully digital. It’s been quite an exciting time to be a photographer… and a little scary… and confusing!
I’d like to think I was fairly prescient during the transitional times, much of my prediction/anticipation turned out to be correct, but there were things I got wrong and other things I never saw coming. Most of us thought film would be around a lot longer than it was. No, film isn’t ‘dead’ but film or ‘analog photography’ has become a retro-niche-specialty. I watched as my darkroom became little more than a storage-space for inkjet supplies as so much of the papers and chemistry of the photo-lab was discontinued and no longer available. There were black and white prints I’d made all the way into the 1990s that I could no longer produce the same way; the papers, developers and toners were no longer manufactured. By the time I bought an Epson R2400 printer (one of my favorites) black and white inkjet prints were now indistinguishable from darkroom-made prints and I knew that was it for my darkroom days. Today (2017) there remain a number ‘analog’ photographers dedicated to film and the darkroom. I commend them for their dedication to ‘tradition’ but don’t let them convince you they’re any better than a ‘digital’ photographer, because they’re not. They’re not special and the marketplace doesn’t give a damn about how they make their photographs. I hope they buy enough film to keep it alive.
I didn’t and many of my photographer friends did not anticipate the digital ‘camera.’ We figured we’d be using the same cameras as always except we’d using digital camera backs. We’d envisioned a digital back for the camera that contained the sensor, processor, battery and memory. You could install the digital module to the back of your camera and shoot digital photos, or remove it, reinstall the ‘normal’ camera back and go shoot film. This never happened. New digital cameras backs don’t open to load film, instead all that space is used for the sensor, processor(s), memory and other stuff involving ones and zeros. If this had been a workable idea perhaps film would still be viable? It’s really too bad because by the late 1980s film research and development had really reached a zenith –the last films that were manufactured were the best we’d ever had and were getting better. The digital camera killed all new R&D for film.
Without the need for film-transport mechanisms and the advancement of the super high resolution electronic viewfinder (I do believe the optical viewfinder will eventually go away, superseded by the mirrorless EVF) it is now time to rethink the ergonomics of camera design. Since digital cameras are little more than handheld computers with lenses, they can evolve into a new form and no longer have to ‘look like a camera.’ Eventually someone’s going to come out with a new-design camera body that will be very different from the cameras (and cel-phones) we’re using today.
We didn’t anticipate that cel-phones would soon include still and video cameras giving rise to ‘mobile photography’ and ‘iPhonography.’
I didn’t foresee the internet. When I first got ‘online’ I saw rather quickly that the portfolio website would replace the physical portfolio. It was very cool in the early days of the internet to be on the phone with an art director or gallerist in a distant city and both of us could be viewing and discussing the same images at the same time via a website on the web. There was an immediate savings in shipping costs to send out a portfolio and getting it back. After that it became convenient to digitally deliver image files via email or FTP, saving more shipping fees.
The stock photo industry was profoundly changed forever for the worse by digital cameras, cel-phone photography and the rapid dissemination of imagery via the web. Throughout the 1980s and accelerating through the 1990s the stock photo industry was rapidly being sold off to corporate opportunists who never gave a damn about photographers or photography. By the early 00s they no longer had to publish and mail expensive print catalogs of images to clients – their clients could now visit the companies’ website and download a stock photo. This also eliminated the picture researcher job as it was now being done, for free, by the picture-user. And with digital cameras and cel-phones making photography easier more pictures were being made than ever before (an estimated 1.2 trillion photos were shot in 2017!). New stock photo ‘suppliers’ took on the amateurs because with digital images they no longer needed the space to archive prints and transparencies. File cabinets holding thousands of slides were replaced by server farms containing millions of images –all in the same space! Although the stock photo business was being done more efficiently and cheaper the new corporate masters reduced photographer’s commissions making it impossible for a professional to earn a decent living through the license of stock photos. To make matters worse, they flooded the market with so many pictures that it drove the price down to the point were now you can license a photo for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.
‘Digital’ really killed the photo-lab business. With less film to process because of digital cameras, and fewer prints to make because so much is merely displayed on video screens the only labs that survived are the ones that adapted to digital, cater to professionals, and expanded their businesses to include things like signage graphics and other ‘print industry’ things that transitioned to digital.
I’ve done the art historians’ job once already by clearly stating that ‘digital art’ is a new art-form in and of itself. For now, the so-called experts continue to lump ‘digital art’ in with photography (primarily, I think, because the ubiquitous software is called photo-shop) but not all digital art is ‘photography.’ Even when working with photographic source-material there is a digital line that when crossed defines the resultant artwork as no longer a photograph but something else –digital art. I don’t know if art historians are clueless, gutless or just don’t care, but I’ll do their jobs for them one more time with this declaration: The post-surrealist era began in 1990. Adobe Photoshop, introduced in 1990, allowed for cutting, pasting and compositing of realistic imagery unlike anything before. This opened new doors of surrealistic-style expression that had been closed to all but the craftiest and clever of photographers. The new digital technologies allowed for new interpretations of abstract-expressionism, impressionism and especially surrealism. Besides this, Salvador Dali died one year prior, in 1989. His death ended the classical surrealist period and the next year Adobe Photoshop ushered in the post-surrealist era. Fifty years from now we’ll see if the art history books agree with me.
‘The transition’ is now complete, photography is officially digital but there are enough practitioners of old-school film photography to keep ‘analog’ photography alive as niche-specialty, but what does the future hold? Prediction is tricky business. Here’s what I think is coming in terms of input, image-processing, output and market.
Input: Will continue to be digital, film will become a specialty niche. As old film is scanned and digitized scanners will remain but will be less common and perhaps no longer manufactured for desktop use. The megapixel wars are not over! To guess, 100 megapixel, full-frame 35mm sensors may become cheap and ‘standard.’ There will be many smaller sized sensors designed for small cameras and cel-phones. I don’t think the Bayer Pattern sensor will last and I’m not sure the three-layer, film-like, Foveon sensor is the answer. I think we’re going to see new sensors, probably curved, and they won’t require firmware color interpolation. Dynamic Range, or ‘latitude’ as we used to say in the film days, will continue to increase to levels rivaling or exceeding the human eye. No more “exposing for the shadows and printing for the highlights.” Sensors will most likely be sensitive to wavelengths beyond visible light. I can envision a switch or button on the camera allowing the photographer to toggle between making pictures by visible light, infrared or ultraviolet light. Perhaps other wavelengths or even night-vision too. The curved-sensor design will allow for really cheap lens manufacture and fixing things like chromatic aberration, coma and barrel distortion will be done with inexpensive software (ultimately lens-correction will be built in to firmware) thus allowing good image quality from really cheap lenses –virtual lens technology. We may even have tiny ‘cooling systems’ built in to cameras to suppress the noise generated by sensor heat build-up. I think the mirror-box and pentaprism of the SLR will go away, replaced by ultrafast, ultra-hi-res electronic viewfinders. Future cameras will be mirrorless. For now there is impetus to make cameras smaller but I think in the future there will be a push to make some cameras larger just to make them easier to hold on to. They won’t be heavier though, lightweight composites will be used more and more. The camera itself is due for a major redesign. Of course the surveillance industry will benefit from smaller, low-energy consuming cameras with higher resolution. We’re going to see more cameras everywhere, more dash-cams, more backup-cams and more wearable cameras. I predict that the police will continue to murder people and when they do their body-cams will usually and mysteriously ‘fail’ at just the ‘right’ moment. Technology always advances at a faster rate than human nature.
Image-Processing: All roads will continue to lead to Photoshop, for a while. Adobe Photoshop is a deep and complex program with a steep learning curve. Already we have simpler and lower-cost image-processing alternatives in the form of Lightroom, Photoshop Elements and others. I do believe that Photoshop already is, and will continue to be, the ‘industry standard,’ but there will be alternatives. Computers themselves will continue to get better, faster and cheaper. Some day we may have superfast quantum computers for the desktop, imagine how fast a filter effect could be applied to a huge file with a quantum computer! Voice-recognition will eventually get to Star Trek levels of functionality, but I don’t know if that would benefit digital artists. Instant wi-fi transmission of imagery will allow for a photographer in the wilderness to be micromanaged by someone in a cubicle thousands of miles away. I don’t think software will ever replace a photographer’s compositional skills. Light-Field Technology may become commonplace (assuming it even works, which is questionable today) allowing for refocusing of images after they’ve been taken. In filmmaking and video high-definition will get higher and higher. Photography will be less ‘optical’ and more ‘computational.’
Output: Most images won’t be output/displayed beyond a phone, tablet or computer screen. It seems backwards to me but as megapixel counts rise, display size gets smaller. The same people who used to insist I use a 4x5 camera for a postage-stamp size reproduction now insist on 50 megabyte files for… postage-stamp size display. ‘Display’ will supplant ‘reproduction’ for many uses. Prints will only be important to collectors of fine art images. Still photography and videography will essentially merge, one device doing both. Stock photography will cease to generate revenues with those images becoming essentially free, or had for pennies. Professional photography will shrink supplanted by ‘citizen journalists,’ eBay-adequate product photography shot with cel-phones will take much of the work away from studio product photographers. As photography becomes easier and easier more and more people will be doing it thereby eliminating the need for a trained, professional photographer. Inkjet printers from Epson and Canon are already amazing and will continue to improve. Since inkjet printers already match or exceed the quality that came from the darkroom printer, future improvements will most likely be in terms of greater speed and user-friendliness.
Market: Predicting business trends is problematic at best, so I’ll keep this brief. I think there will be fewer and fewer actual ‘professional’ photographers working in the future. Because of increased competition from ‘people with cel-phone cameras’ photographers will not be able to specialize due to lack of work and will have to become ‘generalists’ who shoot everything. Wedding photography will hang on for a while –at least until brides and grooms get tired of cheesy wedding portraits and realize that they can just get all the guests to shoot and share photos from their phones. Small product photography studios will need more ‘large’ product shoots (like cars and private planes) to get by. Small products will be shot by adequate amateurs with cel-phones, good enough for eBay quality. Fashion and architectural photography will become even more of a specialty, but with fewer full-time practitioners. We’re going to see a lot of aerial photos until the drone fad fades. Stock photography will become, in essence, free photos. More and more ‘general photography,’ will be done by ‘people with cameras/phones’ who aren’t trained in photography. Professional photographers will be the ones who can ‘get the difficult shot’ that non-trained ‘people with cameras’ cannot. Sports photography will remain. As far as the paparazzi goes… who cares? We’re already seeing a purge in newspaper photographers in favor of free pictures from ‘citizen journalists.’ We will continue to have ‘war photojournalism’ because only professionals will be willing to be shot at to get photos. (There will be plenty of war to cover, unfortunately.) In terms of ‘fine art’ we may see more ‘analog’ and ‘film’ photography simply because the process is too difficult for the average digital photographer, which makes the product (the darkroom print) more unique and valuable. The contemporary museums and galleries will probably continue be dismissive of ‘digital art’ for a long time preferring to stick to what they think they already know. Photographic fine-arts will remain a closed-society of elitism. The university photography degree will probably cease to be offered, an ‘iPhonography’ class will probably be offered in the art or media departments instead.
Conclusion. Where we were – where we are – what we’re doing:
No doubt there are many unforeseen changes hiding just over the horizon. Because of digital the mindset and philosophy of photographers, especially fine-art photographers, has changed in many ways. As of 2017 all this is still new and I predict it will take at least one generation for things to find a new equilibrium. Photographers who know lighting, either set-up in the studio or recognized on location, will always have a skill that coders cannot write software to do. Composition is another innate + teachable skill that cannot be replaced by software. Photographers no longer have to be as clever as they once were because software will allow for nearly unlimited creative options. For me, I miss (a little) the days when I needed to do a special-effect shot and had to figure out how to do it. I had to build actual things like miniature sets to photograph, or know where I could double-expose to build-up an image. I had to have some mechanical engineering skills that are no longer required thanks to software. I had a bag of ‘chemical engineering’ skills I used in the darkroom—‘secret’ toner dilutions, developer combos and dilutions, etc., etc. That knowledge is no longer required, it’s been supplanted by software too.
The ‘digital transition’ profoundly changed the technical aspects of photography and it changed the aesthetic too. The thing I wonder about the most is what the future art historians will have to say about this epoch? Like Beaumont Newhall’s incomplete history of photography I fear that future historians will get it wrong, or worse, they’ll only scratch the surface and ignore many, many innovative artists of today who just aren’t recognized. There is a ton of digital art to be seen on the internet; will future art historians have to patience to dig through it to find the true innovators? Doubtful. What will they say about the intense transition period of 1990 – 2000? Historians love categorization, how will they define non-photographic digital art? Will digital artists be considered impressionists, abstract-expressionists, surrealists? Or will historians create a ghetto for ‘digital’ impressionists, abstract-expressionists and surrealists and thus separating them from others who create the same except in a more traditional medium. Will they look back at our work and declare it ‘experimental?’ I’ve already heard the same anti-digital arguments today that were anti-photography arguments fifty years ago, will historians get over it? Today digital art is expressed in a myriad of ways, will future historians recognize the contribution from us, the very first photo-digital artists in history? Or, will our works be dismissed because they’re misunderstood, out of context, in the future?
For history, I’m doing what I can to write down thoughts on all this as it happens. And I’m making archival pigment prints of my work that will last just as long as a properly-processed B&W print from the darkroom. Will whomever finds my work after I’m dead recognize what they’ve found? Will they care?
DIGITAL REVOLUTION OF PHOTOGRAPHY TIMELINE
1957 First digital computer acquisition of scanned photographs, by Russell Kirsch at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards.
1967 First MOS (Metal Oxide Sensor) 10 by 10 active pixel array shown by Noble.
1973 Genigraphics Corporation founded.
1975 Bryce Bayer of Kodak develops the Bayer filter mosaic pattern for CCD color image sensors.
1982 “Tron” movie released.
1983 First wholly computer-generated illustration published in advertising.
1984 “The Last Starfighter” movie released.
1985 Peak profit for Genigraphics Corporation. 25 million dollars annual revenue.
1986 Kodak scientists invent the world's first megapixel sensor.
“Flight of the Navigator” movie released.
Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) introduced.
1988 End of Genigraphics Corporation.
Microsoft PowerPoint 2.0 introduced. Built on the old Genigraphics software.
1990 Adobe Photoshop 1.0 introduced.
1992 Photo CD created by Kodak.
Microsoft PowerPoint 3.0 introduced.
Kai’s PowerTools Photoshop plugin introduced.
JPEG file introduced by the Joint Photographic Experts Group.
1994 Adobe Photoshop 3.0 introduced for PC.
“Reboot” Canadian computer-generated cartoon on TV.
1995 Kodak DC40 and the Apple QuickTake 100 become the first digital cameras marketed for consumers.
‘Poser 3-D’ software introduced.
1997 First known publicly shared picture via a cell phone, by Philippe Kahn.
2000 J-SH04 introduced by J-Phone, the first commercially available mobile phone with a camera that can take and share still pictures.
Epson 2000P Pigment inkjet printer introduced.
2001 Unofficial ‘Death’ of the traditional Stock Photography business.
2002 First Foveon sensor produced.
2004 Kodak stops producing film cameras.
2006 Canon and Nikon stop producing film cameras.
2008 Polaroid announces it is discontinuing the production of all instant film products, citing the rise of digital imaging technology.
2009 Kodak announces the discontinuance of Kodachrome film.
2010 Last roll of Kodachrome processed.