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2020 Helped Us Rediscover the True Value of Photography


When I look back on 2020 in 5 or 10 years, I don’t think I’ll remember it as the year when a pandemic brought the photo industry to an economic standstill. I don’t think I’ll remember the CIPA numbers, or the R5 overheating debacle, or any of the virtual product launches. I’ll remember 2020 as a year that helped us rediscovered the importance of photography.

2020 did its best to smother the photo industry. Income streams were eradicated, contracts were canceled, and companies were forced to make increasingly desperate moves to stay afloat. With multiple vaccines already rolling out, we’re all waiting not-so-patiently for the day when we can re-open studios, walk around a packed wedding reception, and bicker endlessly over the merit of our most recent camera purchase. The very idea makes my heart beat a little faster.

But as grim as this year has been, it’s also helped unearth something remarkable. Far from being crushed by the emotional and economic weight of an unrelenting year, in 2020, photographers discovered vast reserves of resilience and creativity hidden deep within themselves.

Porchraits. The front door camera. Photographs from isolation. Photographs OF isolation. Frontline medical heroes. Empty streets. A camera obscura in every home. Mini-figure photography. Macro photography ideas. COVID relief portraits. Comic relief portraits. FaceTime portraits. Celebrities shooting their own magazine covers.

The ordinary made extraordinary, and the unprecedented made bearable.

Kyle Roper’s front door camera

I know that I’m about a month too late to be writing the “what I’m thankful for” column. The subject itself may seem cliche or naive, even infuriating. But in a year defined by bitterness and fear—a year that has forced us farther apart from one another, both literally and figuratively—I’ve been genuinely moved by the cohesive and adhesive power of photography.

Forced into isolation, we rediscovered the value of photography as a balm for anxiety and fear. Stuck at home for months at a time, we used our cameras to redeem the mundane moments that make up our lives. Planted in uncertain soil, we used our art in the service of the broader community and created connection out of pixels and photo paper.

When the dust settles and a sense of normalcy returns to our world, this is what I’m going to hold on to from this year. I’m going to set aside the sales numbers, the brand squabbles, and the economic uncertainty and remember 2020 as the year that photography got personal again. The year we rediscovered the magical power of the still image to reveal, to unite, to comfort, and to heal.

About the author: DL Cade is an art, science and technology writer, and the former Editor in Chief of PetaPixel. When he’s not writing columns like this one or reviewing the latest tech for creatives, you’ll find him working in Vision Sciences at the University of Washington, publishing the weekly Triple Point newsletter, or sharing personal essays on Medium.

Image credits: Header photo by Jonathan Borba, CC0