John Palcewski (forioscribe) wrote,
John Palcewski

Photographic Competition Defies Quantification -- Boo hoo!

The article below (linked on The Dish by Andrew Sullivan), says every
2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took
in the 1800s. In fact, ten percent of all the photos that exist were
taken in the past 12 months.

Also, it's clear analog images are virtually dead, and the competition
is growing at a rate that defies quantification. Read it and weep,

How many photos have ever been taken?
By Jonathan Good September 15, 2011

Today we take photos for granted. They are our memories of holidays
and parties, of people and places. An explosion of cameras and places
to share them (Facebook, twitter, instagram) means that our lives
today are documented, not by an occasional oxidizing of silver halide
but constantly recorded with GPS coordinates and time stamps. However
it hasn't always been like this - the oldest photograph is less than
200 years old[1].

So how many "Kodak memories" has humanity recorded? How fast are we
snapping photos today? And how many of these treasured memories are
confined to our shoeboxes as lost relics of a pre-digital era?

First we quantify how many analog photos humans have taken. There is a
surprising dearth of direct data, but we can make some reasonable
estimates. It is safe to say that at most a few million photos were
snapped before the invention of the first consumer camera - Kodak
Brownie in 1901[2]. From that time we can use Kodak's employment
statistics as a reasonable proxy for how many photos were taken
(Kodak’s dominance of those "Kodak moments" persisted for most of the
20th century). More physical photos needed more physical cameras and
rolls of print[3]. Throughout this period photos became more and more
mass-market - by 1960 it is estimated that 55% of photos were of
babies. From 1984 onwards the Silver Institute and PMIA published
estimates of how many physical photos the world was snapping each year
(silver halide being an important chemical in film)[4]. Year after
year these numbers grew, as more people took more photos - the 20th
century was the golden age of analog photography peaking at an amazing
85 billion physical photos in 2000 -- an incredible 2,500 photos per

At the dawn of the new millennium a new technology (that Kodak itself
invented) was reshaping the whole industry - the digital photo. When
the first few hundred thousand digital cameras shipped in 1997 their
memory was strictly limited (in fact cameras like the Sony Mavica took
floppy disks[5]!). Digital cameras are now ubiquitous - it is
estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital
camera[6]. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would
be a staggering 375 billion photos. That might sound implausible but
this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook,
suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there[7].
Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion
photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of

Even accounting for population growth the exponential growth of photos
is incredible (we take 4 times as many photos as 10 year ago). Today
every party, birthday, sports game and concert is documented in rich
detail. The combination of all these photos is a rich portrait of
today, the possibilities of which are illustrated by a tool like “The
Moment”. As photos keep growing we take a clearer and clearer snapshot
of our lives and world today - in total we have now taken over 3.5
trillion photos. The kind of photos we are taking has changed
drastically - analog photos have almost disappeared - but the growth
of photos continues.

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