Phases of Photography

I had an interesting day on Monday wandering round the Photography Show in the NEC in Birmingham. The thing that struck me was the scale of the change sweeping through.

Firstly, there were only two places where analogue photography was in evidence: on a standing selling “rare and unusual” film stock, and on the disabled photographers’ society stand where some of the second hand equipment harked from that era. Other than that everything was digital.

The core audience of the show seemed to be 40-60 year-old men with DSLRs with large, expensive lenses hanging from their necks. And the big flashy stands – Canon, Nikon etc – as well as the several equipment retailers were clearly catering to that audience.

But the next wave of change in photography was also evident in the stands selling drones and those showing off software solutions which automate much of the difficult stuff of photography.

So far, it seems to me, the digitisation of photography has mostly replicated what was available in analogue photography. In the next phase, though, it is what happens after the picture is taken that will make the difference. Already smartphones have powerful editing software which can radically change what was actually taken. And startups like Lytro are taking this trend one stage further. Their camera actually shoots at multiple focal lengths simultaneously. So the photo you shoot is only one of several possible perspectives. This means it’s what happens afterwards which is important. And when you view the picture you can choose what to see. This intrinsic interactivity makes the photograph truly digital.

One thing is for sure – photography is changing again and the role of the photographer with it.

Apple’s $10,000 watch

Apple is known for expensive technology. But for the extra money we have always received higher quality, better usability, superlative design. But with the announcement of a $10,000 solid gold watch today, I wonder if they have made a tactical mistake.

There is no way to argue that the watch itself (functionality, form, impact) is worth that amount of money. After all you can get exactly the same for under $400 – albeit in aluminium.

And, while buying an expensive mechanical watch is an investment is something with staying power – watches can be handed down across the generations – Apple’s version is going to be obsolete in a couple of years. It probably won’t even tell the time five or six years down the line when the software is updated.

Apple is the uncompromising, innovative guardians of good, user-let design is the model we have been used to. Apple as the flashy luxury brand pandering to the super-rich may not play quite as well.

Time will tell.

Ignoring the Elephant

Over the weekend I wrote a post called The Elephant in the Room where I talked about the tendency of journalists to ignore the issue of climate change when reporting energy stories. As if to prove the point Terry Macalister, the energy editor in this morning’s paper managed to write about Lord Browne’s plans to build a major energy company from scratch (using Russian money) without mentioning the Carbon Bubble. Given the palpable financial risks involved you might argue this is a journalistic failure.

The climate change narrative 

Winning the “carbon war” will be more about narratives than policy initiatives. That seemed to be the message of Jeremy Leggett, former Green Peace activist, and academic, current chairman of The Carbon Trust and founder of Solar Century, as he spoke to a meeting of the London Futurists.

And key to these narratives are what he says are three mega trends:

  • The plummeting costs of green technologies (called the “terrordome” by analysts AllianceBerstein)
  • The rising costs of fossil fuel extraction – over $700bn in 2014
  • Growing environmental activism around the world (there was a march happening in London at the same time as he was giving his speech)

These are inexorable trends and together they are pushing the world in the right direction ahead of the global climate summit in Paris in November.

There are counter narratives – such as the promise of cheap energy from fracking which is the current obsession of the Prime Minister and Chancellor. But Jeremy Leggett believes there are strong reasons why this fracking revolution isn’t going to happen. First, the U.S. success story is unravelling fast and may implode before the UK general election next May. That would force an abrupt change of line, he believes. Second, the British (and perhaps particularly those in the Tory shires) are pathologically opposed which makes it difficult to envisage, especially in the new era of minority government and coalitions.

The final reason Jeremy Leggett seems a lot more positive than many in the environmental movement is the growing acceptance by the financial community of the sizeable risk of a carbon bubble. Even the Bank of England is now examining the question to assess the systemic risk.

Taken together, he believes these narratives are turning the tide.

He is serialising, for free, a book outlining his arguments which can be downloaded here.

The Elephant in the Room

It is great to see Alan Rusbridger driving a major push on Climate Change at The Guardian.

Generally the coverage of the issue itself is good on The Guardian. But they suffer from a common problem. When journalists cover energy related subjects – say the trials and tribulations of the North Sea oil industry or fracking or Alberta coal tar sands – they do so in isolation, without mentioning the Elephant in the Room – the carbon budget. This basically means most of even the oil and gas on the energy companies’ books can’t be burned if we are to stay below 2 degrees C of warming. 

That’s not to say The Guardian doesn’t do a good job of reporting on the Elephant itself; it does. It’s just that the Elephant often doesn’t get a look in when other, related topics are covered. 

And, in my opinion, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the Elephant at all times. 

Alan Rusbridger has said that the one thing he wishes he had done a better job of in his time as editor is cover Climate Change better. Here’s hoping this means the Elephant gets a look in much more in the future.