Images are everywhere. Take a look around, they are on fabrics, on cups, on the walls, on advertising flyers, the list goes on….
Stopping by one of the numerous junk shops in my home town I can find boxes and boxes of old post cards and rooms lined with picture frames containing both originals and prints of various styles and qualities. There are so many and most are worth so little (priced from £0.20 to about £8) yet artists still get commissioned hundreds or thousands of pounds to create new art work. If there is such an abundance of images out there why do we keep wanting more?
There was a time when images were scarce, to be found mainly in religious buildings, libraries or the homes of rich people. They would have been hand painted or hand printed, and have resided in one place alone, unless a copy was made. Each image had a value to be found in its uniqueness.
Centuries of innovation have put an end to this. Technological advancement in print technology and the advent of the camera have meant that any image can be reproduced over and over again. Now one image can be cheaply printed and circulated to be viewed by hundreds of hungry eyes.
The ability to reproduce images gave them a new life and a different sort of value. Images became powerful tools for the delivery of information. As acclaimed art critic John Berger states “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak .” Images can be used to connect with people in a way that words do not. They have aesthetic appeal and can cause a strong emotional response. They do not have to be read but confront us in an immediate way.
For these reasons they are used to furnish goods, for entertainment and advertising. Looking back over the past two centuries, an increase in mass produced imagery can be correlated closely with a rise of consumer culture. Incidentally, as art critic Susan Sontang writes, “a capitalist desire requires a culture based on images.”
Illustrators, photographers, artists and designers have made a living from understanding this constant need for new images. After all, consumer culture runs on novelty and relegates the old as irrelevant. However we are now reaching a point where it seems there are images everywhere, the public, surrounded by so much designed and printed material, take it for granted; huge amounts of packaging, magazines and advertising material are thrown away only to be replaced by updated versions of the same thing.
These trends have been further accelerated due to digital technology. The internet and computers have made imagery even easier to create, duplicate and share images. In fact, the pure volume of uploaded visual information stored without any hierarchy or sifting threatens to obscure even the novel image. Will there soon be so many images and so many people making them, that becoming an illustrator, artist or photographer becomes an unrealistic goal with too much competition and scant rewards?
It may be that image makers will have to evolve. Collaborative projects such as the Johnny cash project and interactive digital material like the arcade fire website “The Wilderness Down town” by Chris Milk are examples of people working together and exploring new areas. Will this ongoing quest for the original, the novel and the unique mean a new age for the image? Lets hope so.
Written by Alice Larkin