Snap Now, Focus Later | Is the Lytro the End of Photography?

There are so many technology stories every week it can be hard to know what’s significant or not. But this piece on the BBC about a new sort of camera has kept me thinking all day, so I thought I’d blog something about it.

Put simply, the ‘Lytro’ camera – available for pre-order, but not yet out and user-tested – captures the entire ‘light field’ of a scene – all of the light travelling in every direction – meaning that the point of focus and depth of field can be changed any time after the shot has been taken. The video on the BBC site I think is the best explanation of it, but here is a CNET review too:


So why might this be interesting? I’ve lived through an extraordinary period where we’ve moved from totally analogue film to pure digital. You’ll know if you’ve read here at all that I’m keen to explore how our tools reshape us, as well as us shaping them – and the move to digital has had a profound effect. People expect to see images now, rather than waiting for them to be developed. But with this new development, are people going to have an expectation of being able to post-produce photographs too?

I’ll admit to being a little uneasy about aspects of this, or just a little sad. It feels as if the photograph as object is under threat – that photography is becoming entirely subjective – alterable by each viewer as they choose, rather than presented as a final exposed, controlled piece by the artist. Rather than me approaching a photograph – a finalised object, a slice of time frozen and preserved – and responding to it, it’s almost that the lytro-style photograph has to respond to me, which, forgive the pun, is a huge change of focus.

Perhaps there are general themes here beyond photography too. Is objectivity in final retreat? Must everything bow to the subjective? In the world of Facebook and other social media, is it becoming more problematic to make ‘real’ statements, or must we offer everything in a format that can then be manipulated and modified by others.

I’m not against interactivity, and not against it in art in any way. But I would still want to be able to hold on to the ability of an artist or writer to be able to make statements or produce objects that demand that the viewer or reader change in response to them, rather than the object or text having itself to morph to fit those who view them.


One response to “Snap Now, Focus Later | Is the Lytro the End of Photography?”

  1. I wonder whether, if this new technology becomes widely adopted, the traditional photo will become like paintings are today – an art form that is still practiced when it is the appropriate medium for the ideas and emotional content the artist wants to explore, but that is no longer at the cutting edge of technology when it comes to capturing images of the world.

    In a culture that promotes subjectivity, should we seek God as the ultimate objective observer? In term of seeking to understand God as a creative being and the universe as his artwork, is God creating an experience that demands change in us, or an experience that allows us to interact with and maybe even co-create the artwork? or both?