Jessops’s branch closures and the Digital discourse
Jessops recently announced that will be closing 81 stores. This amounts to closing around a quarter of its stores and slashing 550 jobs. Jessops is re-organising and restructuring its business. The company blames the increasigly tough market conditions, especially the ‘severe price deflation’ of memory cards and digital compact cameras, and ‘shortages of key product lines caused by financial insecurity’ (British Journal of Photography, 154/7640)
So, whereas prices are fast-falling, chances are that many of us would soon be able to order more cappuccinos rather than cameras (and by the way, smokers could be served nowhere at all, following the brilliantly immature and stupid policies of our times: first suffocate those who don’t smoke, now suffocate those who smoke!…)
The photo above was taken from my last visit to one of Jessops’s local branches. My personal impression was that many items, such as SLR cameras, were understocked and the overall stock range was quite limited. For example, none of the three branches had available a Pentax K10D, one of the most highly praised cameras today, neither they had a single copy of the old or the new Olympus digital models E-410 and E-510. And although a delivery of a Pentax K10D was helpfully arranged for me to check it out in few days, there was no other than the kit lens available. In fact, if wanted to see the ergonomics and handling of any other Pentax-mount lens, I had to buy it in advance…
Jessops has a new strategy for the company’s recovery, according to the same source, and this involves concentrating at online digital printing and a new focus on the digital SLR market.
Few months ago, to change slightly the story, I was in York photographing the local cathedral (see photo below)
Soon some children came around and after pretending of posing for me they asked to see the pictures. When I showed then the black ‘pictureless’ back of my Olympus OM-4, saying sorry but this is a film camera, there was a moment of total surprise and silence from both sides!… ‘Why can’t we see them?.. Film, what do you mean!?’ they asked with their faces down.. In which I was simply speechless.
I tried to make sense of the disbelief, and the signs of doubt and contempt in children’s faces, when they came across a camera that does not display thumbnail images at the back…
Later that week I wrote a small note to an online forum of photographers about ‘the new digital discourse’, the fast-spreading and all-pervading digital ideology and practice of our times, with its own logic, economic interests and particular effects on people. In fact, I was disappointed that few people there were quick to defend the… functionality of digital photography; this was the only thing they could understand from a critical analysis of our context. But of course, a contextual analysis is much more than the sterile ‘film versus digital’ kind of argument, into which many online debates are so often reduced. (‘Playing with reality and mirrors’, a photograph below by Ella Sujun Zhou)
Film and digital photography have their own strengths and weaknesses, they are often not mutually exclusive, and after all, this is not the main issue for someone interested to create a memorable and valuable photograph. I can’t emphasise more the last sentence!
Yet, the way photography is increasingly understood is predominantly digital and this is heavily influenced by the photographic industry and market. Although the phenomenon is complex (people do have own preferences as well, such as, for example, a desire for convenience), I believe that the rationale of photographic industry during the last years, reinforcing their own economic needs for profit and creating a new culture around us, has been to put it simply ‘everyone must get a digital camera.’
Accordingly, film has been heavily marginalised (and unfairly stigmatised as anachronistic and inferior), although, as we said, it could equally keep providing for many people’s photographic needs, for the development of their skills, and for a highly satisfactory visual result. It was Jessops, for example, the major street-level photography provider for the masses in UK, who decided a year and half ago to eliminate any film artifact from the display in its shops in favour of total digitalisation, and especially one oriented towards compact and low-end digital cameras.
It is very useful analysing the way the interests of photographic business for financial performance and profit have an impact on how we understand photography and our culture in general. They shape a new kind of ethos and a new type of individual. As George Carlin has put it recently “I’m a modern man, a man for the millenium… digital and smoke-free“ (Despite that, could someone say one day that the classic Olympus OM-1 doesn’t always look sexy!?…)
And here is probably where all becomes even more interesting. Because, as long as we realise that our individuality is not all that free-floating, full of personal choices, with flowers around us to taste as we fancy like a butterfly , it is intriguing to imagine how the average photographer of the near future might develop and look like… For example, taking into consideration the new Jessops strategy, we should expect a growing interest for SLR cameras and a ‘personal’ demand for more and more sophisticated equipment…
All rights reserved © 2007 Christos Stavrou