It used to be possible to visit a minor tourist attraction or attend a public event without spotting a single camera. People attended purely for the experience, to say they'd been, no visual proof required. It's not like that any more. Everybody's a photographer these days, pointing their lens at anything that moves (and plenty of things that don't). Stand in a crowd and you'll probably have your view blocked by a flailing arm waving a camera. Try to take your own photograph of somewhere historic and you'll probably have to wait for several other amateur snappers to move out of shot first. Look it's a swan [snap] look it's a brick wall [snap] look it's a cloud [snap] look it's a Banksy! [snapsnapsnap].
We're taking more photographs than ever before because it's easy. And too convenient. And nigh instant. And free. And because we think other people want to see the photos we've taken. Which, unbelievably, it seems they do. Where our photos might previously have languished in a musty album, seen only by ourselves, family and friends, now we can share our latest snaps with everyone via the internet. Sites like the newly-revamped flickr have thrived because we've suddenly discovered that we like having our photos scrutinised, rated and reviewed. If we upload an arty shot of a Parliament Square at night, how many views will it get? Will anyone decide that this streetscape photo is a favourite? How about this reflection in a puddle, will it attract any comments? All of a sudden there's a tangible reason for taking photographs just for the sake of it, so more people do.
Comedian Dave Gorman is a case in point. He's discovered a whole new audience by posting regular photographs to his flickr account, many of these taken in and around east London. Dave's been building up a mighty impressive collection of diverse images, and has generated acres of reverential feedback in the process. But I do wonder whether this might merely be a way of generating material for his new book or stage show, because some of the comments he's getting exceed mere admiration and tip over into semi-religious fervour...
I suspect that this effusive outpouring is because people feel able to review photographs in a very different way to other forms of creative material. When we view good photographs we're usually able to express precisely what it is that we appreciate about them, often using quite technical or emotional language. It's not the same with paintings. Only proper art critics can describe a gallery of painted canvases with any genuine conviction. And it's not the case with writing either. Nobody ever pops up in my comments box and says "Oh my god WOW, fantastic paragraph structure!" or "I love your verb usage, so strong and so very reflective". No, the true power of the photographic art form is that, at some level or other, we all feel capable of commenting on the images that others capture. We know what we like and what we don't, and we know why. And often we think "I could have taken that", and next time we're out we try to attempt something equally impressive ourselves. But please, if you see me out and about with my camera, do keep out of my way - I don't want you messing up that perfect shot.