The Flickr effect

This morning’s Observer column.

Because Flickr is so prominent, it’ll get most of the blame for the destruction of yet another venerable profession. But in fact the rot had set in long before the site launched in February 2004. The main culprit was the idiot-proof digital camera, which enabled almost anyone to take a decent photograph, or at any rate one that was accurately exposed, in focus and sharp — and to delete it and try again if it hadn’t turned out right.

Digital cameras had a powerful ‘levelling-up’ impact on amateur photography. Once upon a time, only professionals could consistently deliver images that were technically excellent. And even then, analogue technology often let them down. I’ve just been looking through a book of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s collected portraits, for example. Out of 94 images, only 66 approach contemporary standards of sharpness and focus. That doesn’t mean that most of them aren’t memorable pictures; but it does illustrate how digital technology has levelled the playing field…