Rethinking Photographers Part 1

Week 3 Position and Practice

What the wider world makes of us as a photographic Practitioner

Marvin Heiferman made the claim that photography is changing itself ( HEIFERMAN:2012). While he meant the way we view photographs, I want to add that it also changes the role of photographers.

“If photographers in the past were respected as skilled professionals and idealized as romantic truth-seekers, today’s model is more democratic. WE ARE ALL PHOTOGRAPHERS NOW! proclaimed the boldly lettered title of a 2007 exhibition of visitor-contributed digital content at the Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland.” (HEIFERMAN:2012,P14).

David DuChemin is less eloquent and verbalises what we sometimes feel when he says: “Every one that have a @#$ Camera think they are Photographers”

However he continues:”When the words, “everyone is a photographer!” are muttered we show our true cards. We reveal first that we believe the very word “photographer” has intrinsic merit. We believe, mistakenly, that it implies something precious, not unlike our use of the word “artist.” For the record, I think our use of the word “artist” has become too precious as well. We say it with misplaced reverence. To be an artist simply means we make art. Some of it will be good, some will be garbage, and many will be the arguments about which is which. Oddly, the photographers who would never deign to call themselves “artists” for fear of being called out as a snob, will happily exclude others from their ranks as “a photographer.” It’s time to call this what it is: elitism, snobbery, and small-heartedness.”

More worryingly, when we bemoan the new reality, that so many people are in fact becoming photographers, we show an unwillingness to share the thing that has given us such pleasure” (DuChemin:2018).

David warns not to disparage other photographers even the beginners. What we may need to do is to firstly acknowledge that all people that use a camera are photographers as they may be future practitioners and that we learn to edify our fellow practitioners and photography masters. This will reduce conflict and return the practice to some credibility and acceptance.

I still get asked whether I am a professional photographer and it still means something today for serious clients. As a long time amateur photographer that first turned semi-professional and who is now only embarking on a full-time career have the greatest respect for both amateur and professional practitioners. As a Photography teacher I have also come to appreciate the first attempts by new photography student s and the personal growth, fascination and wonder experienced by them, which takes me back to by early days. Whats more, I have seen that the digital photography has allowed some of them to leap frog their practice. One of my students bought her camera two years ago during my course and three years later she was invited to exhibit one of her Photographs at an Expo in Venice Italy. She still sees me as her mentor and the one that has opened her eyes to this world.

We can debate terms to define photography practitioners as Snap shooters, Professional, Amateurs and Fine Art photographers. But I doubt if the term snap-shooter still applies to the modern mobile device photographer “hibstamatic”. We can also define photographers according to their genre e.g. War Photographers, Fashion Photographers, Fine Art Photographers, Landscape photographers, Wildlife photographers, Travel Photographers, Journalists, Wedding Photographers and many more. But our opportunities and the work projects we do may be the defining us not what we define ourselves to be.

Don McCullen in the documentary of his life makes the point that we get defined by the the photographs we deliver. He became known a a War Photographer a title he in later life came to hate and has made attempts to change that.

Initially snap-shooters were limited to taking photographs and sharing it with family and friends through a private album. The advent of the internet, the smart phone or what is now called a mobile device and social media has opened this sharing to everyone. Photography for them has become a way for them to communicate. They have effectively become adept in using the visual image to communicate and in journalling their own lives. While it was still possible to separate the work of a professional or serious amateur photographer based on the quality of their work and practice the gap is closing. The “Citizen Journalist” has been created that can and will through practice be able to get to places and report on stories close to them in near real time in a much more efficient way than a hired pro could ever do. But this is not only for personal interest areas.

But events and opportunities may redefine us….

New York 911 September 2011 Not Yet Realizing A Terrorist Attack Was In Progress, Architect And Amateur Pilot Isabel Daser, Eight Months Pregnant, Asked A Co-Worker To Take Her Portrait As A Record Of The Day (Greta,J: 2015) .

The Rapid development of the Citizen Journalist development can be tracked. While the 911 was covered by photo journalists and activist like Bill Briggart ( Briggart:2017 ), who gave his life at the World trade center, Documentary photographers like Magnum photographer Steve Webb, Street photographer, Joel Meyerowitz, (Harris:2011) a world renowned War Photographer James Nachtwey (Nachtwey:2017) and amateur photographers such as a John Botte a NYC Detective and some tourists present on that day. Photos were with an unprecedented variety of camera’s such as Instamatics, 35 mm film SLR’s and rangefinder cameras , Medium format cameras and their is even a photograph taken with a view camera. Todd Maisel a Photo journalist used the first professional grade DSLR an , a Nikon D1 and a photograph taken using a Sony Mavica. All of them captured the mood of the day and the events in their different perspectives. What is notable is that the cellphone camera has not been introduced yet

The cellphone camera launch in Japan and 911 happend in the same month. the Cellphone camera was launched in Britian the folowing year and it was launched in America in November 2002 (Hill:2013).

According to The Gaurdian commenting on the London Bombings in July 2015 ” The mobile phone photographers, the text messages and the bloggers – a new advance guard of amateur reporters had the London bomb story in the can before the news crews got anywhere near the scene.” and ” Seasoned news executives talk of a “tipping point”, a democratisation of the news process, the true birth of the “citizen reporter”. The public assuming control of the newsgathering process to a hitherto unimagined degree ” (Gaurdian:2005) . The world now needed to assess the impact of this new tendency.

A study done post the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013 discusses the lessons regarding information provided via the Cellphone users. While regarded negatively, the footage from cellphones was used to identify the perpetrators. This article however raises major issues regarding “Citizen Journalism”.

The american government is considering blocking this unstoppable natural progression. While clearly accepted by news gathering executives this new tendency threatens the careers of established professionals.

Even documenting peoples lives is done effectively by “Hipstagramers”. I have seen work done by some of these that compete well with those making a living of it. Don Mcullen states in one of his videos that he does not fear the social media a the difference would become apparent when a photograph is enlarged. The quality of smartphone cameras has already passed that of film and is no longer true. ….. Day in “the life of Grunts” proved that with sufficient skill the IPhone can be used for news gathering and even win journalistic prizes.

As a wedding photographer I feel constantly under pressure to produce better work and deliver photos as soon as possible as I may be embarrassed by “Aunt Joey” taking better photographs and provide it a half an hour later via social media. But even saying that, my greatest threat is from Professionals that used to work in advertising, fashion and journalism who are losing out to cheap stock footage and CGI that change their career to wedding photography to survive.

This change in demand and skill requirement is not limited to the Photography practitioner. I was trained as Electronic engineer and had to reinvent myself to become a IT professional. with the advent of cheap hosting services in the cloud it is no longer possible to solicit a high salary as an IT architect. It is said that all practitioners may only have a carrier of 10 Years after which they will need to rediscover and retrain themselves.

If photography is the new language, then it holds true that the ideal is that everyone learns it and use it to communicate. And as in the case of the written language there will always be those that excel in it and a demand for them to provide eclectic or other supporting services, such as master photographers that know their craft at its deepest level, post production specialists, colour experts, graphic designers, editors etc. In short mediocrity will not survive. Not unlike the other industries, if you want to be a professional you need to provide real value. There is also a need to train photographic ethics as the above discussion indicate.

In the Art community the artist needs to find a way that express contemporary issues or be so eclectic that someone consider their work collectible.

Its only the amateur that still have the freedom to pursue freely the whole gamut of opportunities available to us all and enjoy a photograph, even if a million similar images has been taken.

Reference:
HEIFERMAN, Marvin. ca. 2012. Photography Changes Everything. Aperture.

DUCHEMIN, David. ca. 2018. “Everyone’s A F*cking Photographer” DavidduChemin world & humanitarian photographer [Online] Available at: https://davidduchemin.com/2018/09/everyones-a-fcking-photographer/ [accessed 20 June 2019].

GRETA,J ca. 2015. “21 Rare Photos Of 9/11 Attacks You Probably Haven’t Seen Before” Bored Panda [Online] Available at: https://www.boredpanda.com/rare-911-twin-tower-photos/[accessed 20 June 2019].

BRIGGART, Bill ca. 2007. “21 Rare Photos Of 9/11 Attacks You Probably Haven’t Seen Before” Bill Biggart Photographer (1947-2001) [Online] Available at: http://www.billbiggart.com/911.html [accessed 20 June 2019].

HARRIS, Niel ca. 2011. “Joel Meyerowitz: Ground Zero, Then and Now” TIME [Online] Available at: https://time.com/3780724/joel-meyerowitz-ground-zero-then-and-now) [accessed 24 June 2019].

NACHTWEY, James ca. 2017. “Revisiting 9/11: Unpublished Photos by James Nachtwey” TIME [Online] Available at: https://time.com/3528699/revisiting-911-unpublished-photos-by-james-nachtwey/) [accessed 20 June 2019].

HILL, Simon ca. 2013. “From J-Phone to Lumia 1020: A complete history of the camera phone” Digital Trends [Online] Available at: https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/camera-phone-history/ [accessed 24 June 2019].

GAURDIAN ca. 2005. “‘We had 50 images within an hour'” The Gaurdian [Online] Available at: ttps://www.theguardian.com/technology/2005/jul/11/mondaymediasection.attackonlondon [accessed 20 June 2019].

WIHBEY, John and LEIGHTON, Walter Kille ca. 2015. “Boston Marathon bombing: Lessons learned through research” Journalit’s Resource [Online] Available at: https://journalistsresource.org/studies/government/criminal-justice/boston-marathon-bombings-lessons/ [accessed 20 June 2019].

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