Two keynote speakers, each looking the other way.
The two PhotoPlus Expo keynote speaker presentations by Chase Jarvis on Thursday and Albert Watson on Friday clearly presented the crossroads facing the photography industry today. The two talks couldn’t have been more different. Both are great photographers. Neither was wrong. But there was such a palpable difference between the two, and that difference is metaphoric of what we’re all experiencing around us in this industry today. The statue of the Roman god Janus looking both forward and backward comes to mind.
Albert Watson showed stunning images (that he endlessly apologized for the terrible presentation of via the projectors) and told equally stunning stories of his career. He talked of photographing a magazine cover in Paris, flying the Concorde to New York for a second shoot hours later, and ending the day at a third shoot in Los Angeles. He talked of 8x10 cameras. He talked of printing one of his books with an eight color offset press with two additional plates on two page signatures that kept the presses going nonstop for a month to complete the edition. The crowd in the room hung on every word, held its breath, and never wanted to admit the truly unpleasant truth that Albert Watson’s world is no more.
The same room the day before saw an entirely different keynote with Chase Jarvis dressed and pacing along the stage in an almost comedic interpretation of Tom Cruise’s motivational speaker character in the film Magnolia. Chase showed a slide depicting a diverging pathway with one direction labeled “Old shit?” and the other “New shit?” and proceeded to declare this the most exciting time to be a photographer in the history of history. Why? Because we can now control – or can take advantage of – the distribution channels. We can create and distribute images like never before. It’s not just about taking images, but about new distribution channels and new ways of sharing what we have rather than protecting it. Book project from an iPhone app. Tens of gazillions of people sharing information and images at light speed. Do and share and go forward and be creative and the rest will fall into order. At least for Chase it does.
But really, agree with Chase or not, the journey that Albert Watson experienced just isn’t an option anymore (as unpleasant for all of us as that is). And Chase’s seems like one of the only positive and possible paths forward presented right now. It seems that it is time to let that breath out and get moving.