Recently, a cartoon appeared in my newsfeed on Facebook. For copyright reasons, I’m not posting the cartoon here. But I’ll describe it:
A professional photographer, cameras with large lenses dangling around his neck, is standing behind a large group of people pressed against a fence, each holding a cellphone in the air. Presumably, they are all there to take photos of an event.
The professional says, “I’m a photographer.”
The “amateur” photographers respond in unison and with smiles on their faces, “Hey!!! So are we!!!”
The cartoon was posted in a professional photographer’s group and judging from the comments, it struck a solid nerve with the professionals. The cell-phone photographers, the point-and-shoot photographers, and even the random iPad photographers are seen as a blight upon the world of photography by a large number of professionals. Perhaps the vast majority. I can’t say. But I disagree with that view.
I posted my opinion on the cartoon and the state of photography in the comments section of the cartoon. I share it here because I think it deserves consideration.
The truth in this cartoon is that neither the implied professional nor the implied amateurs are lying: they are all photographers. What particularly grates at the nerves of professionals is the diminishing gap between the two. Suddenly, the photography market, an already difficult market for financial success, is flooded with an army of photographers. While they might be armed with less powerful machines, it doesn’t necessarily limit their eye or how they view a photographic moment. In the cartoon, it’s feasible that one, maybe two, maybe even all of the amateurs can take a good shot. Perhaps even a landmark shot. No, it won’t have the resolution for print. That’s why the professional is hired with his professional gear. But the amateur can take a good shot. It’s possible. And it happens. Perhaps in the cartoon, where art imitates life, one of them will look at their photos and even believe they have a talent. And perhaps they do. Do we frown on that as fellow photographers? Or do we believe in the fellow artist and encourage them to pursue their art? Do we judge them because they haven’t made the investment that we made yet? Do we groan because people “like” their photos on facebook and compliment them on beautiful shots?
Someone else made the comment once that Instagram is like autotune for photography. I couldn’t agree more. But it inspires the artist within. Who are we, as fellow artists, to try to stifle someone’s artistic aspirations? The good rise to the top regardless. I’m sure that many of us professionals didn’t advance in our careers because everyone told us we were amateurs and took crappy photos. I know that wasn’t the case for me.
It’s time to accept not only the reality of advancing technology in the photography market, but also the proliferation of that technology as well as growing means of distribution.
The obvious challenge for the professional photographer is to take better pictures than amateurs. The less obvious challenge is accepting that there is a large number of photographers who are better than you.