When was the last time you bought something online? Something you have never held, touched or used. Something new to you? The answer will probably be at least once in the last week. Even if it was just your online grocery shop. The decisions you made in those transactions will have been informed by a photograph. You will have read a description and maybe some product reviews (hoping that they are honest and true!) but the look of the product will have been central to your buying decision.

This year I have bought a house through an online portal, booked a holiday and purchased a car. I researched my daughter’s new school online and I have purchased a long list of decorating products, a new squash racquet, clothes and various pieces of furniture. I have trusted the photographs of each.

What we wear, what we drive, where we live, how we decorate, what we eat, where we go, the sports we watch, the films we see, the restaurants we use, and how we vote are all informed by a photographic image both still and moving. This is photography in the 21st Century. Of course it also exists on gallery walls, in museums and beutifully designed self-published photo books but this is a very small aspect of the photographic medium. It may be the area that photographers and critics focus on the most. The area that they consider to be the most important and serious but that is in my opinion an elitist stance to adopt.

Others may consider images seen on Instagram as being the true heart of photography but again this is just as an elitist position. The most important and powerful images are the ones that reach the largest audience. Not the ones that receive the most social media likes from like minded souls but those that connect with an audience not engaged with photography as a creative medium.

The rise of online engagement and social media platforms combined with the smartphone’s image-making functionalities has taken photography away from the photographer and I do not judge that as being a bad thing. Just as I do not feel the need to criticise or look down upon images created specifically within a commercial context. Which image has the most power? A full-colour image of a succulent quarter-pounder burger back lit in a fast food restaurant or an aesthetically pleasing image based upon a poem that means everything to the maker but little if anything to the viewer. Both are valid but the role of the image of the burger will be more impactful to a greater audience. Its cultural importance cannot be denied even if its photographic qualities may be discussed and derided by some.

I think it is important to take a step back and see photography from this perspective. To ensure that the confusion of detail does not cloud a clarity of vision. Photography is now a global visual language without borders. It does require a sense of translation but that does not need to be at an academic level. Our daily engagement with visual matter provides us with the opportuinity to improve our visual literacy. You may or may not have consdered photography with such an open mindset. I don’t know, but I do know that I have had many conversations with people who do not. It is easy for us to remain stuck-in-the-past seeing photography as a creative practice disconnected from our daily lives. It is not, it is our daily lives, not just as photographers but as human beings navigating the every day reality of life.

Dr.Grant Scott
After fifteen years art directing photography books and magazines such as Elle and Tatler, Scott began to work as a photographer for a number of advertising and editorial clients in 2000. Alongside his photographic career Scott has art directed numerous advertising campaigns, worked as a creative director at Sotheby’s, art directed foto8magazine, founded his own photographic gallery, edited Professional Photographer magazine and launched his own title for photographers and filmmakers Hungry Eye. He founded the United Nations of Photography in 2012, and is now a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, and a BBC Radio contributor. Scott is the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019), and What Does Photography Mean To You? (Bluecoat Press 2020). His photography has been published in At Home With The Makers of Style (Thames & Hudson 2006) and Crash Happy: A Night at The Bangers (Cafe Royal Books 2012). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was premiered in 2018.

Scott’s next book is Inside Vogue HouseOne building, seven magazines, sixty years of stories, Orphans Publishing, is on sale February 2024.

© Grant Scott 2024

Categorized in:


Last Update: 07/02/2024