Fred Ritchin’s Thoughts on the Future of Photography… and the World

Here’s a slightly-oldie but a very-goodie: New York University photography professor Fred Ritchin gave this keynote address last year at the “What’s Next?” event put on by Foam. He shares his thoughts on the past, present, and future of digital photography and how it impacts the world around us.

The lecture is a taste of what Ritchin covered extensively in a 2008 book he published titled, “After Photography.” Here’s the description:

After Photography examines the myriad ways in which the digital revolution has fundamentally altered the way we receive visual information, from photos of news events taken by ordinary people on cell phones to the widespread use of image surveillance. In a world beset by critical problems and ambiguous boundaries, Fred Ritchin argues that it is time to begin energetically exploring the possibilities created by digital innovations and to use them to better understand our rapidly changing world.

Ritchin—one of our most influential commentators on photography—investigates the future of visual media as the digital revolution transforms images into a hypertextual medium, fundamentally changing the way we conceptualize the world. Simultaneously, the increased manipulation of photographs makes photography suspect as reliable documentation, raising questions about its role in recounting personal and public histories. In the tradition of John Berger and Susan Sontag, Ritchin analyzes photography’s failings and reveals untapped potentials for the medium.

One of the big things he discusses is the truth and credibility of modern day photographs that are set before the public’s eyes by media outlets.

The argument I think, finally, is that people do not want to know what’s going on in the world. People really do not want to know. It’s much more comfortable to think, “Maybe it’s happening. Maybe it’s not happening. I don’t have to do anything, because we’re not sure.” […] we don’t have to do anything because the photograph does not have credibility anymore. I think as a society we’re much happier that way.

You can watch the second part of the 20-minute talk here:

Thanks for sending in the tip, Sam!

  • michaelp42

    I lasted 3 minutes before falling asleep. Does he get any more interesting?

  • wewewew

    what has OJ do do with it….. bad article….

  • DudeRocks

    Maybe if you had not obsessed with OJ and focussed on the underlying message of the whole presentation, the article would have actually succeeded in opening your eyes. He was showing examples of manipulation by the mainstream and often respected media and their rationalizations of editing the photos in name of art and ‘no sacrifice to truth’! The article is about how dubious journalistic imagery has become and how it continues to be so in absence of any sort of editorial integrity!

  • DudeRocks

    Yes, it does. You should check out the entire video. He does have a valid point. But then maybe you fall in the category of people he actually described in his presentation. –

    “Maybe it’s happening. Maybe it’s not happening. I don’t have to do anything, because we’re not sure.” […] we don’t have to do anything[…]”

  • Ken

    Ritchin’s was one of the only books I’ve ever just thrown away after reading (as much as I could of) it when it was first published nearly 5 years ago. He really has no profoundly insightful or scholarly revelations to offer regarding photography’s future. I’ve known several guys in his mold who “discover” some largely self-evident facts and then try to leverage it into becoming a soothsayer to those even less savvy, usually the (more) elderly.

  • Ralph Hightower

    Damn! National Geographic photoshopped a cover shot before there was a Photoshop? Before digital photography?

    Oh well, National Geo lost their journalistic credibility with me.