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Technology, Participation, and Photography

There are few art forms in which the artist’s tools, techniques, and processes are being as dramatically transformed by digital technologies as photography. An interesting juxtaposition: the loss of important film stocks, most recently Kodachrome, which Kodak will soon retire, and the astonishing growth in the capacity of simple, inexpensive, digital point-and-shoot cameras. We are witnessing the swift evolution of digital imaging technology, both hardware and software, and it’s continuing to make profound changes in the way photographers work. Moreover, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it has expanded the number of casual and amateur photographers who are taking snapshots by the billions, sometimes of astonishing quality.

The impact of technology on the ways in which we engage with creative activities is striking, and its relationship to cultural participation is worthy of particular note. For example, WolfBrown’s recent cultural participation study for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, the Cultural Engagement Index, finds an important correlation between personal practice activities and audience-based activities. Specifically, increased frequency in “taking digital photographs with artistic intent” indicates more frequent attendance at museums and galleries. There’s an opportunity to build on this synergy by figuring out how to employ these more powerful and less expensive artistic tools to feed participation in creative pursuits and establish a personal connection between programming and audience or visitor. By building interest and connection to arts and culture as a personal activity with personal relevance, we can develop new avenues of audience development.

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