The death of photography is something that is often proclaimed.
Of course, such an announcement is problematic because what is this thing called “photography”? It is a concept so broad, encompassing everything from the art image to the advertising campaign, from the hard-hitting news photo to the long-term documentary project, that any declaration of its demise has to be premature.
Announcing the death of photography is often a coded way of saying that the still picture is no longer important. Yet this declaration to seems more than little premature. In the last year, some 250 billion digital photographs were produced. This number is growing rapidly, so that by 2010 (next year) some 500 billion digital photographs will be made globally. A quick glance at the video from the Chobi Mela opening (below) shows how digital cameras are prominent across the world.
Even this sign of health is taken by some to indicate another likely death — that of the professional photographer at the hands of the amateur or citizen photographer. That claim, too, seems premature. A quick glance across any newsstand, or a short time spent surfing the web, will demonstrate that the place of the professional, skilled photographer — while undoubtedly under all sorts of pressure — is nonetheless still very prominent. Professional photographers have a particular responsibility. Our world is mediated visually. We — whether picture makers or image consumers — come to understand our lives in context through visual representations. That visual understanding then establishes the possibility for thinking about politics, citizenship, rights and action.
In the global image economy some things are included and many things are excluded. The relations of pictorial power are not equal. The great virtue of Chobi Mela over the years, and the great impact of Drik since its inception, has been to make these questions of inclusion and exclusion — and how these inclusions and exclusions are politically important — unavoidable for all who take photography seriously.
Photography is very much alive, very important, but also undergoing great transformations. It is changing rapidly in nature, technology and purpose and we need to understand how these changes will play out politically. It is no longer possible (if it ever was) to put our faith in photography as an objective record of the world out there, so how can we use images to document the all-too-common injustices of the present global order? The mainstream media produces and supports one set of global visions, but how can photographers challenge these visual accounts that so often lack both context and complexity? Chobi Mela’s many exhibitions are one way of addressing these questions.
[My remarks at the opening ceremony for Chobi Mela V, Dhaka, 30 January 2009]