Trends in photography

“Seaward at Stonewall, 2009,” an archival pigment print photograph by Michael Stimola, available at Field Gallery in West Tisbury. — Photo courtesy of Field Gallery

Photographer Pam Mullins said she was shocked.

Ms. Mullins, who lives and works in British Columbia, was looking through a file of her recent digital photos and saw an image of a soaring bald eagle with long smoke trails radiating from its talons.

In a happy stance of timing and opportunity, the professional photographer snapped the bird as two jets passed behind it, leaving contrails in perfect alignment with the bird’s feet. Yahoo featured the photograph on its website last weekend.

The smoking eagle illustrates the belief of four well known Island photographers that photo technology is creating a seismic shift in their art, the effects of which are just beginning to be seen.

“Cameras are everywhere in the world. Everything can be seen by some camera. The societal effects are enormous,” photographer Peter Simon says.

Printing technology advances can now provide archival quality prints, putting calibrated bits of pigment rather than pre-set inks on the page. Even the choices of page has expanded exponentially. Photographer Michael Stimola keeps a list of 40 different papers to suit the image he is printing in his home studio in West Tisbury.

Together with Island photographers Alison Shaw and Louisa Gould, the four professionals are all delighted by the possibilities technology is bringing to their work. They have no concern that having Everyman be a photographer will displace or endanger their craft.

Mr. Stimola shares an anecdote that establishes the priorities: “A few months ago a neighbor asked me about my work, and I began telling her about lens technology [imbedded in new digital cameras]. She listened, then asked, ‘What about the lens inside you, Michael?'”

The answer for these photographers is that exciting possibilities are available to their internal lenses because of technology that allows them to shoot what they see and to create mood and feeling through new visual effects such as combining videos with photos for dramatic results.

Mr. Stimola recalls, “I was at an exhibit in New York recently. I was looking at a portrait photo. Suddenly the subject blinked his eyes. I wasn’t looking at a still photo but very high-quality video in very slow motion.”

Ms. Gould defines the impact of digital applications saying, “Photo composition is really an art form, using photography as its basis.”

And Ms. Shaw says, “Technology is the biggest trend in photography because it enables more and more unique images. Even on my new iPhone, I can add borders and colors.”

In her Arts District gallery in Oak Bluffs, surrounded by her iconic images of Vineyard scenes, Ms. Shaw explains, “Technology is adding more variety and creativity in producing the images, more control over images. Film gave you whatever you shot. I do very little manipulation, but I’ve gone from hard-edged primary colors to softer more ethereal, more painterly tones.”

Alison Shaw Gallery co-owner Sue Dawson adds, “The aim of professional photographers is to distinguish their work. For example, many of Alison’s students have snazzier equipment than she’s got. She’s got a new digital camera, but it has 25-year old lenses on it.”

All agree, it is the photographer’s internal lens, along with passion that, despite trends and technology, are the keys.

“It is my passion,” Ms. Shaw says. “I can wake up to a foggy day and know there’s calm water out there — which I love to shoot — and I can go from lying in bed to driving the car in two minutes.” Ms. Shaw laughs.

And according to Mr. Simon, experience also provides an inner guide: “The ‘eye’ separates men from the boys. You just know where the right shot is, the best composition and lighting. It is innate but someone like Alison also has the trained eye. There is a sparkle and knowledge behind it that I respect. I know she took the time and effort to make it right. That’s what separates the lucky shot from the professional photographer.”

In his Main Street studio in Vineyard Haven, surrounded by his classic candid photos of ’60s dissidents, rock stars, and politicians, Mr. Simon acknowledged he was a grudging convert to the Digital Age.

“I didn’t go digital until 2003. I found it not to be up to the standard of film. However in the last five years, digital has matched 95 percent of film quality, and I can control digital more than I ever could in film photo finishing,” he says.”It’s very satisfying to be able to make prints on my computer. I can have control from taking the picture to a finished print.”

Ms. Gould, photographer, painter, and owner of the Louisa Gould Gallery on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, has a bird’s-eye view of the artistic landscape.

“Our whole world has changed. With Android and iPhone, everyone has a camera in their pocket. One result is we have a much more visual world, with instant feedback.”

She says, “I go to as many photo festivals as possible to see what’s new or hip. For example, I see photos processed on aluminum. Here, my customers are more traditional. They want a picture of a lighthouse, not a composition of a picture of a lighthouse. If this studio were in L.A., Amsterdam, and Berlin, it would be different — more abstract photos, more layered treatments.”

“There are trends — fads, really, in photography. In runway fashion shows, shots are grainy, raw, the light flashes are left in. Will it last? No. Something else will come along,” she says.

An example of a true trend is the symbiosis between photography and video, Ms. Gould explains. She says, “Pictures that move are another way to tell the story. Full-length movies are being shot with the Canon 70. I can make a commercial for my clients with video clips from my phone camera.”

Ms. Gould teaches photography, and she reports that her students are becoming aware of the possibilities open to them.

“They would rather educate themselves to take good pictures than to spend $1,500 on one camera,” she says.