Technology and the Profession(s) and Practice(s) of Photography: Week 3 reflection

Richard and Daniel Susskind (2015) explore the impact of new technology, and in particular artificial intelligence and machine learning, on a range of professional groups, the institutions in which they work and the organisations that regulate their practice. They argue that we are entering a period of fundamental change in what we expect of the professions and how they operate, and call on practitioners to ‘think more widely and strategically, and to be tolerant of the possibility of change in their own disciplines’ (p.4). The areas of practice that they address include health, education, law, journalism, management consulting, tax and audit, and architecture. Whilst photography, as a profession, is not explicitly discussed, photography as a practice is clearly implicated in the changes that are taking place in the professions. Those who make a living as photographers will need to consider both how new technologies and the resulting changes in their own practice, and in the wider professional contexts within which they operate, will impact on what it means to be a photographer. The discussion topic this week has focused very much on journalism as a professional context, though the guest lectures have also raised important issues in relation to new technology, and in particular the critical role of visual artists.

Hayley Morris-Cafiero, through the circulation of images via social media, and subsequently a critical engagement with others through social media, highlights the critical role that photography can play in revealing and confronting social injustice and discrimination. Edmund Clark explores contexts in which the actions and expertise of multiple professional groups intersect and interact, and through his complex multi-modal works (in which the visual, and more specifically, photographic, is a major component) raises questions and illuminates practices, as a visual artist, that construct and contest social order, and the impact on institutions and individuals (as both subjects and objects of institutional activity). In both cases digital technology enhances and facilitates the work (more emphatically, these technologies are a pre-condition for the work).

So whilst innovation in photographic production and networked distribution of images transforms the wider field of photography, the potential for critical art is enhanced, both by the technology and the increased opportunity for inter-disciplinary collaboration. A place for visual arts is held open, not solely through appreciation of human craft (albeit in new areas of craft activity in a digital and post-digital age), and the enhanced ‘generic’ and employment related skills developed through a visual arts education (such as new forms of communication and community building, modes of working and collaborating, ways of engaging with data, creative problem posing and solving) but in the production of work that provokes, challenges and potentially transforms our understandings.

I wouldn’t, at this point in time, consider myself to be a photographer, but rather as on a journey into photography, or perhaps, more broadly, visual arts using photography. That sets a sense of direction, rather than marking out an identity. This is not just a point in time issue. More generally, a degree of fluidity in identity seems more fitting to the 21st Century, identities which, empirically, are always multiple and in flux, as much through changes in context as through a changing personal sense of self and community. Viewed in this way, personal trajectory becomes of greater interest, and cogency, than assertion or achievement of an identity. It’s a journey with a particular destination in mind, but recognising that both the place itself and the traveller are in a state of change and development. Arrival, if that ever happens, will inevitably be other than envisioned at the outset. And the effect for the traveller is to supplement, not replace, who they are and how they are seen by others. Calvino (1974, 1981) explores this better than I ever could.

In addressing the discussion question, I am learning to be (and be seen as) a photographer, in a time in which the idea of photography as profession is fragmented and radically challenged. In this context, the practices and communities associated with, and enveloping, photography and where we sit in relation to these, become more important than the idea of a profession. And finding this place involves critical engagement with all technologies, old and new, associated with photographic image making in the development of a distinctive voice, and the potential to supplement and enhance the practices of others, in other disciplines as well as in photography and the visual arts.

Calvino, I. (1974). Invisible Cities. Translated by W. Weaver. London: Vintage.

Calvino, I. (1981). If on a winter’s night a traveller. Translated by W. Weaver. London: Vintage.

Susskind, R. & Susskind, D. (2015). The Future of the Professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.