It’s hard to overstate just what impact photography has had on every part of society that has gained access to it. At the start, its use for portraits and historical documentation ushered in a new medium with deep, wide-ranging impacts on many other forms of art. It relatively short order, even a concept as simple as war documentation was transformed:
Meanwhile, as smartphones have given access to what was previously professional-grade photography to the wide masses, we’ve seen effects ranging from the incredible ability to document human rights and police brutality abuses to conveniently recording the memories of a lifetime.
But by many accounts, we aren’t responsible enough stewards of the medium. There are around half a million security cameras in London, recording everyone for no clear benefit, and many more in cities around the world. The Chinese government uses widespread surveillance, much through cameras, to keep a close eye on a billion plus people. Just this week, the NYT reports on the tens of millions of images of child sexual abuse crimes, shared in massive communities of pedophiles. For all the benefits of encryption, encrypting Facebook Messenger will prevent Facebook from knowing about or taking action on images of child sex crimes on Messenger.
While the ability of the masses to capture and record with great fidelity is unprecedented, magical, and rightly-celebrated, it is one we must take responsibility for. The capture often crosses invisible, but important, lines of consent. If anything, photography underscores the critical importance of understanding and thoughtfully utilizing all powerful technologies and new forms of media. No technology is all-good or all-bad, and photography is one more example of that.