Strange Times

PDN, Photo District News, has announced that they will shut down both the print and online versions of the magazine in 2020.

For many many years PDN served a purpose by covering all kinds of aspects of photography, primarily commercial, but also editorial, architectural, fine art, fashion and so on.The magazine had exhaustive and extensive reviews of new equipment and  user reports, articles on industry trends and in-depth interviews of prominent and trend setting people in photography.

Why is the magazine shutting down? Although photography is very large the model of the print version magazine is out of date and no longer sustainable. Many magazines are having a hard time, of course. People aren't so interested in getting their content in something that comes into their home once a month and that sits on the coffee table for a bit then gets thrown out. Many online versions of magazines stemmed from earlier print versions as a measure to grab internet subscribers. But, evidently there wasn't enough of this for PDN to justify a full staff of reporters, designers, photographers, writers and editors.

So, another photo magazine bites the dust. American Photographer, Popular Photography and many others. Is this simply because print editions are not the way we want to get our news anymore? Or is this something larger, specific to photography? I would argue a little of both.

Photography is undergoing foundational change. No longer primarily a print medium, photography is tied inexorably to video capture and with it, screen-based presentations. What we do, making prints for showing, collecting, selling and simply having, is now a small subset of an overall phenomena that is huge and universal.  Giving us industry news in a monthly printed format means we are getting the news far too late. We want to know what is happening now, practically as it is happening, not 6 weeks later. But camera sales are down too. With photography so big and imagery being so "everywhere" how can that be?

The Smartphone

Simple enough. Everyone now photographs. The hand-held phone is now required. No darkroom, no processing, no printing, just simply posting, sharing and showing on line. The quality of the capture from present day phones is now so good that argument against them is over. The "fine print" made from our expensive large format or full frame chip cameras? The print as a beautiful object? Something to treasure or purchase?  No, not so much. 

As a career photo educator I am at a loss to know what to teach, thankful I retired years ago. In the 60s, 70s and 80s we worked hard to legitimatize photography as a separate field worthy of academic study and pursuit in myriad undergrad and graduate programs nationally. As the head of a university program I could no longer justify teaching photography in isolation. I would have to bring in and welcome many other disciplines to our study, among them: video, animation, graphics, sound, production, small business practice and accounting, and probably several others. In truth, photography would play only a small role in the context of the other disciplines and the concept of integrating them all into a field of study that would be viable in the real world of new and recent grads looking for work. 

All this makes the earlier days of teaching photography and practicing it look naive and almost negligent. 

Off on a rant here and perhaps more for another time but to conclude, PDN is closing up shop and we are the lesser for it. By subscribing to PDN I felt plugged in, made aware of what was going on in the larger world of all things photography.  I am grateful for what the magazine and its staff gave us for many years. I for one will miss it.

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted January 30, 2020