The photograph itself doesn't interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality.

~Henri Cartier Bresson

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

FROM: Assignment Chicago

Once upon a time in a faraway land, the lords of photography lived in a castle of many darkrooms. They enjoyed wisdom and knowledge about the craft. Some devoted themselves to their art in monastic fashion. Others enjoyed their power and lorded it over others at a high price. Many of the townspeople were intimidated away from the mysterious castle with its cauldrons of chemicals and rooms of red light. One day, a wizard of technology conjured a powerful spell upon the land. The next morning, digital cameras were magically found on every tree. Now, taking photographs was as easy as picking an apple. The townspeople rejoiced. The castle walls of photo knowledge came crumbling down. Photography was now freely available to all. The photography lords were aghast. They knew cameras did not possess the magic of photography, but their mystique was now gone. "Free! Free! Free! " Ideas and creativity flourished as the digital revolution upended the established order. And there was much rejoicing. But soon, a huge cloud of confusion emerged across the land. There were no rules about who could call themselves a photographer and how much townspeople should charge for their photography. Strong arguments over quality ensued that ended in clashes of ego. Out of this confusion rose a king from a man from a village called Mediocritee. His name was King Goodenuff. King Goodenuff's first declaration: " Excellence is a waste of time and money. Excellence is the same thing as perfection, and since nothing is ever perfect, let us not argue about such things.” Knowing that feelings were the new truth, King Goodenuff often said in magnanimous fashion to the crowds, "We are all Goodenuff now!" And there was much rejoicing. But one thing became clear: it was far easier to take pictures than ever before and even easier to share them freely. The inevitable happened. Many villagers wanted to freely use the photos that were freely being shared. They raised their pitchforks and chanted, "Free! Free! Free!" Soon, the resistance of villagers not to part with money caused them to doubt the value of other created works, such as music, news and information of all kind. Like cameras, some thought everything else might grow on trees too. The technology wizard and his fellow merlins capitalized on this confusion. They started to create billion-dollar digital castles of content in the cloud, all built from the land of free. They stoked the call for everything to be free and enticed the vulnerable with the idea of free exposure. But other townsfolk saw this and said to themselves, "Something is not right." Meanwhile, in the town square sat an elderly lord of photography who had lost stature after the digital revolution. Once ignored and ridiculed by the townsfolk, they were now patient with what the elderly man had to say. "You have been deceived by a grand illusion. Food does not magically appear on your table. News is not created out of nothing. Cameras do not take pictures. You must pay the creator for his creations." The technology wizards were aghast that someone would dare point out the obvious. They had used clouds and mirrors to enrich themselves and to hide a basic fundamental truth from photographers: Technology trades on the value created by others. Panicked, King Goodenuff tried to change laws to take away rights from their creators to help the wizards of technology. But the villagers became wise. More of them began to use words such as copyright, licensing, and value. Some banded together in creative communal sharing of content. The tide had shifted. The cloud of confusion began to lift as the light broke through to the land. And the elderly wise man rejoiced.

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