Hey hey everybody,
Here's the result of some meditation upon some photography related issues that I've had lately. Enjoy!
The free world of photography
by Stefan Chirila
I am sure many of you can relate to this emotion: when you are sitting and staring at your computer screen with a good idea in your mind, yet you seem to fail to find the means to start talking about your subject. My idea is the topic behind this piece of writing, "The Free World of Photography". I would like to start by letting you know that although I will speak in terms of photography, since this is the conjuncture through which I came upon these ideas, they are just as valid in a more generic scenario and just as fitting to describe the place where we are today.
I was reading a book ...on photography, more precisely on being a successful photographer, the other day, when the words written in it drove me to contemplate the notion that the world is undergoing a certain change that the author is calling "the flat world". The author speaks of the fact that technology is flattening and equalizing the vast differences and distances that used to have a very strong word to say when it came to inter-human interaction between two remote places in the world. Nowadays, however, the Internet is rendering some thousand kilometres meaningless when it comes to, let's say, someone in North America wanting to have a verbal real-time conversation with someone in Europe, for the sake of the example. As long as both have access to the Internet, which in the past years has become less and less of a major feat to achieve, they can both use Skype, a popular Voip (Voice Over I.P.) tool to hear one another, in some instances at a higher quality than they would over the phone, and at considerably lower cost, considering that Skype is free of cost and their internet service provider would not charge either of them more for doing this, than it would for simply being online for that specific period of time.
I used this example above in order to illustrate how the state of technology today has defeated some of the challenges that we would consider nearly unchallengeable not so long ago. An obvious one is long distances. But the thing that came to my mind is of a far more abstract nature, yet influences us in many more ways every day. I am talking about the freedom that the state of things today gives us. And to the extent that I have thought about the matter, I found that there are three type of this freedom worth mentioning.
1 The Freedom To Network
So back to photography. As a photographer myself, I will share with you how modern technology influences my work-flow the most: I am given a unique opportunity to network. As an artist, I am part of numerous artists' communities online, such as deviantART.com and Flickr.com. They are only two examples of a large number of such communities that offer, in four words, the freedom of networking.
This networking infers the showcasing of one's artwork, the giving and receiving of constructive criticism, getting of advice. Another great element of these networks is the opportunity to learn. Many photographers speak and write on the topic of photography there, such as I do right here right now. Of course depending on the author of the text, some may be more interesting, engaging, or useful than others, but nonetheless one is suddenly able to tap a resource, getting a glimpse into a talented photographer's thoughts, without him or her having already become famous enough to write for magazines or having published books.
In many cases one can stumble upon some very useful resources, which otherwise would have cost a lot of time in research, or would have been inaccessible, if the case is that one gets the information from the inventor of the technique.
Many such artists' meeting places online also feature chat rooms and forums. These can be used to schedule physical meetings between like-minded artists. A great example for that is deviantART's equivalent of that, the devMEET. There are virtual clubs of artists from the same country, same city, or sometimes neighbourhood, which once in a while have devMEETs for several occasions. For example a club that I am aware of just recently had a Halloween devMEET.
Books and writings by artists and connoisseurs are also much easier to acquire in this day online. I am right now reading a book written by a photographer about being a photographer and a few minutes ago I have reviewed two tutorials written by photographers on photographic techniques, both without having to leave the house, or my computer where most of my work takes place.
In other words, we conclude that even though most of these elements talked about above are not necessarily entirely new notions, such as networking, meeting like minded people, sharing ideas, learning from professionals, in today's age we notice that we do have an increased freedom regarding the access to these elements through the Internet.
2 The Freedom to Pirate
Along comes another element of our lives that becomes enhanced by the moment's conditions. The element of piracy. Most of the time the first thing that comes to my mind when I talk about piracy or pirates is ...well you guessed it, the storybook pirate, think Pirates of the Caribbean. One thing that I always manage to notice when watching the films of that series is how nicely portrayed the pirates are. Well ...not nice per se, but rather along the lines of misunderstood individuals that are in said situation rather because the environment forces them to, or because they simply crave a poetic liberty and freedom of going wherever they want to go whenever they wish to and to pursue random hidden treasures following treasure maps. A great example is the character of Captain Jack Sparrow (notice I did not forget to mention Captain), whom we literally learn to adore and feel sorry for and wonder what on earth the East India Trading company has against when all he wants is to have his ship back and freely sail the seven seas to wherever he pleases. All this comes mainly from the fact that film makers and of course the writers of the story, for good reason, left out some of the things that pirates of that day were known for ...plundering, raping, killing and other similar activities. Without showing them, a pirate remains mainly a rebel who refuses to adjust to social norms and chooses to randomly sail the seas, often omitting to change into clean clothes once in a while.
I think one of the reasons why many of us have so little against piracy today is because today's Internet pirates, well mostly the small everyday ones, are so much alike these fictional half-pirate personas. Let me explain. First of all try to think if you've ever committed something that could qualify as modern-day-Internet-piracy. Have you illegally downloaded music from Limewire/Kazaa/Napster ? Have you downloaded movie torrents from [link]
? Have you as a photographer used another photographer's images as previews on your own website? If you answered yes to either of these questions then you qualify for the status of having at least once committed piracy. You may be thinking now, "So what? I didn't hurt anyone..." and in a way you are right, you haven't left anyone without a valuable object that make them feel they are at great material loss without, you simply acquired a copy of something someone else possessed, even if without their consent. This might make you feel like a little Capt'n Jack Sparrow, proud that he managed to get his ship back from the evil Barbosa, when you managed to get your favourite song off of Limewire without having to pay for the whole Artist's album at the music store. However if you invest a little thinking into it you can not get away from the issue without having to admit that indeed you have committed an act of piracy, even if you didn't kill anyone for it, nor did you cause someone a huge financial distress, you still took someone's property without their consent and that is in the end a form of theft.
I am not writing this in order to awake feelings of remorse, my point is that because being a pirate nowadays involves way less cruelty and direct physical violence, one has a very easy time neglecting the negative implications of people unrightfully using someone else's property as their own and one quickly slides towards the extreme of venerating such behaviour and finding it to be proof of cleverness rather than a negative thing.
As far as today's Internet piracy goes I find that one can divide things up into two major categories: The Robin Hood Scenario and the Bad Pirate Scenario.
The Robin Hood Scenario: John goes on the Internet and downloads the newest U2 Album and puts it on his iPod. Then he goes back and downloads Lord of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring from [link]
The Bad Pirate Scenario: Photographer Michael Michaels (I really hope this is not a real photographer's name) is working on his blog, when he gets to the part where he has to create a gallery with some engagement portraits for his potential customers. He then surfs the web looking for the blog of his favourite wedding photographer and saves a few of his photographs to his computer and then eventually integrates them into his own blog.
While both these types of piracy are technically bad, when one finds himself in a Robin Hood Scenario, one neither thinks of himself as bad, nor do most other people. Why is that? The answer is, because the Robin Hood Scenario is a case in which the so called pirate causes hurt to the music and movie industry, who is not exactly seen in a most positive manner by the majority of people today. We all know how music labels treat artists and what huge amounts of money they make, while the artist gets paid a tiny fraction of it, that we cease to have even the least bit of remorse towards them*.
*Of course this does not have to be the case for everyone. I used an exaggerated manner of speaking in order to make my point.
The Bad Pirate scenario, however is completely different. Especially photographers will agree, more especially those who have once or twice been on the victim side of things in such scenario. Even if we are not photographers, it just feels wrong. Why? Because this time it is easier for us to put ourselves in the shoes of the victim and at the same time the victim of this case is one that we can feel sorry for.
Now, speaking in terms of photography, the industry's standard is the following: Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom for most professional photographic work.
To those of you who have dabbled in photography for a bit, it will be no secret that the programs mentioned above are quite on the expensive side, at least Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. Yet they are the standard that most photographers use and that most tutorials online are written for. So what is a photographer to do? Well, one can either spend an extended amount of time working and attempting to go without food, in order to get the money together; or one can make a loan and consider it an investment in one's photographic future; or one can do the thing that all of you have already been thinking considering the previous paragraphs and download a pirated version of the software.
It is indeed a sad thing, the way things are and that it is this pricy for an enthusiast to practice their hobby and to enrich the world of art with their participation and that most of them are more or less pushed into the situation of having to practice piracy in order to be granted basic tools.
Luckily, however, there is another freedom that we are given by the current state of the world and the technology within it. I call it the Freedom to Open.
3 The Freedom to Open
Open is a wonderful word, if you ask me. It suggests endless possibilities, it makes me think of beautiful landscape photography and it beautifully rolls off the tongue without much effort.
Open is a word that can describe the state of information today online. The notion of open can resonate with the notion of freedom that we have discussed before. In an open place one is not kept prisoner, one has access and one has the right to action.
Open is however also a notion that can stand for the philosophy of being available for others. Along with the freedom of networking that the Internet gives us, we also have the option to use it and be open with others who might need our help, could use our knowledge, experience and friendship. I am not trying to revolutionize people's thinking and induce a state of Utopia. What I am talking about is photographers sharing knowledge in forums, in the spirit of sharing that which makes photography a beautiful art with those less experienced, by means of Open Workshops, Open Tutorials, Open Resources, readily available.
I am also talking about software. Free and Open Source Software - FOSS ([link]
which is indeed a worldwide initiative that works in this mindset. In this case free is meant as in freedom, the freedom of what you as a person can do with the software, as opposed to being restricted by the author and barely being able to do much with it.
This philosophy has given birth to real alternatives to the real problems that we are facing today. Some of these are replacements for the industry standards that are the Adobe products. These alternatives are The Gimp ([link]
as an equivalent to the well known Photoshop and RAWTherapee ([link]
as an equivalent to Lightroom. And there are many more as well, panorama stitcher Hugin ([link]
and HDR exposure blender Qtpfsgui ([link]
fill other niches of photographers' needs. Considering that these open initiatives are going against established instances of Adobe projects that this company invests considerable amounts in every year, the open projects' achievements are considerable; the open projects being of mostly non-commercial nature and fueled mostly by the interest of volunteer programmers.
For those who have been a victim of a scenario that pushes the best of us towards the practice of piracy, this is very good news; because now there is an alternative. Now there is such a thing as having the freedom to choose a viable alternative to huge sacrifice or piracy. Now we have the freedom to Open.