Driven by Technology

Lesson Details

Subject: Shooting

Title: Driven by Technology


Once video cameras were these massive things that were so heavy you had to carry them on your shoulder. This is clearly no longer the case – unless you are perching your iPhone on your shoulder (take it down!) But the idea that cameras should be an ungainly tool that we use still persist – a remnant of another time.


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OK, What do I mean by changing the grammar and the look of video journalism, television journalism driven by the technology. This is an interesting opportunity that that we all have before us. For the very first time, video cameras are small. I mean they’re even smaller than this. We could talk about iPhones. But we’ll use this just as an opportunity as an example for the moment. The cameras are small. As I said before, don’t hold it like this and pretend it’s a giant Betacam, but cradle it down here.

The opportunity to work with these small cameras allows it to create a different kind of look and a kind of intimacy in our work in general. This is the work of W. Gene Smith. He’s probably one of the greatest photojournalists in history. He worked with small Leicas. Little tiny cameras. And being by himself as a photojournalist, he was able to create a kind of intimacy that never existed before in photography. This is a very important difference and it’s a difference driven by technology. It’s what happens when you embrace the technology and understand what it does to the product. In the early days of photography, when photography was first invented, cameras were these big heavy things and you’ve probably seen pictures of them called view cameras. They sat on a tripod, they were huge. They shot with a sheet of film or a glass plate earlier than that, they got one exposure each. You’ve probably seen pictures where the photographer puts the thing over his head. And the pictures they took because of the way that they did they and because of the year was so big were very strict and formal and very serious.

If you ever look in your attic you’ve got pictures of your great-grandparents standing like this having gone to a professional photographer and being photographed in a very stiff and formal manner. It’s not that that was the best pictures that you could get. It’s that was what the technology of the time because it was so heavy and complicated, it was the only thing it could create.

So for many, many years photography was this very stiff formal pose stuff like this. In the 1930’s the Leica company invented small cameras and 35mm film was developed by Agfa, also German. And suddenly, a new technology emerged in the world of photography. And photojournalism embraced it. Now for the first time, photojournalists could get rid of the tripod, the heavy camera, the need to stand so formally like this. They could take their cameras and they could go off into the world and they could begin to shoot photographs like this. Photographs that were intimate. This was a series that was done by Life magazine in 1948 by W. Eugene Smith called “Country Doctor”, in which he actually spent time in a small village working with a country doctor and followed him around. The pictures are beautiful but notice what happens here. The intimacy, his ability to spend time with his subject, and get close to the subject. You rarely see this in television.

What happens in television? In television and filmmaking, we still use these giant cameras and even if we don’t have giant cameras we still think as though we have giant cameras. We stand far off. And if you look at things like the evening news, all the correspondents stand like this very stiff and formal. Just like those photographs of your great-grandparents. This is a mistake. But this new technology offers us and opportunity to try and do something different.

© Michael Rosenblum & Lisa Lambden 2015