A few decades ago, the making of a photograph was mainly reserved for professionals and a few wealthy amateurs. At that time, there was an immense need for the visual documentation of reality around us in photographs. Obviously the professional photographer focused on that task with a great deal of dedication.
Today, more than 100 million new photos are being uploaded to the Internet every day. We don't need professional photographers any longer to document the world around us. The question is justified whether we - professional photographers – still have anything to add to this visual information overload. This existential question for photographers has been discussed many times by our group of graduates.
The medium of photography is undergoing rapid change. And wherever there is change, there is also opportunity. We, at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague (KABK), find it hugely exciting to see new ways to engage the medium. We teach our students to invent their own paths and be an author. What is the story you would like to tell? Apart from being creative in the field of making work, you also need to be creative in finding your audience and creating new business models.
The opportunities for the new generation of photographers are boundless. However amazing that may sound, learning to deal with these infinite opportunities is one of the greatest challenges faced by this generation of photographers. In his essay Two Concepts of Liberty, British photographer Isaiah Berlin drew a distinction between negative and positive liberty. In this context, negative and positive should not be seen as value judgements.
Negative liberty focuses on external influence – in this case, the limitations of photography as a medium – which transforms into unlimited opportunities in an incredibly short space of time. Positive liberty, on the other hand, focuses on the freedom to act independently, on your own will or ambition. The stronger someone’s reason for doing something, the more autonomous and freer they are.
Negative and positive liberty are interrelated. It is only possible to experience the new unlimited opportunities of the medium as positive if the user is capable of dealing with it, by the virtue of having strong motivations – or a strong will. Therefore, the challenge of photography education is to encouraging students to develop a strong ambition and a strong will. This enables them to take full advantage of the new, unlimited opportunities in technology and the other changes within our profession.
The final-year cohort of the photography department reveals a superbly eclectic mix of photographic expression and a celebration of liberty and freedom. They nurture photographic thought, although it may not necessarily lead to a photograph. What they all have in common is their deep-rooted ambition to communicate and to share. They make their own decisions, have developed a strong will and, through this, prove that they are ready to take their place in the professional world.
Rob Hornstra & Lotte Sprengers
Heads of the Bachelor Photography and the Master Photography & Society programmes