At least a couple times a week I get a great email from someone with something nice to say, some piece of advice they’re seeking, or just a general “hey how are ya?” and that email will say something like “I’m just an amateur photographer, but…”
That word elicits some pretty mixed responses in me. It makes me angry at an industry that’s erected such stupid and unnecessary walls. It makes me sad for what these walls have done to so many people, because somewhere along the line people have come to believe that there is a hierarchy. And there most certainly is not.
So this is a short post. I get verbose at times and I’m going to really reign it in this time. Because nothing I can say will stop the egos and divas out there from thinking that their professional status makes them something. That won’t change. Give a guy a publishing credit or a paycheck and suddenly he’s Ansel-freaking-Adams. Except I’d be willing to bet Ansel was a good bloke who wouldn’t tolerate this crap anyways.
All I really want to say is this; let’s drop the “just.” You are not merely an amateur photographer any more than I am merely a professional. What you are, what I am, is a photographer who loves and wrestles with his craft. We have good days and bad days. Sometimes we do exceptional work for free and sometimes we do crap work and we get paid well for it. So what? We are, I hope, all growing, changing, evolving. We are learning what it means to express ourselves through the lens, to speak the visual language. Does age matter? Not a chance. Joey L was 18 when I first heard of him and he’s freaking amazing. Does getting paid matter? Not in the slightest. I’ve seen crap from all kinds of professionals and been responsible for creating some of it myself, all while getting paid.
So what matters?
It sure as heck isn’t whether you have a brand new Leica or an old Canon AE-1. It’s not whether you have books to your credit. It’s not how many people know your name.
It’s this: that you love it.
That you’re learning to see the world in a way that’s unique to you, and you’re taking the time, with what talent you’ve been given, and what hard-earned skills you possess, to show the world that vision in clearer and clearer ways.
Just an amateur? Amateur comes from the same word from which we get words like Amorous; it means to love. You merely do photography for the love of it? I can’t think of anything more noble to say of your motives for doing this. It should be the pros out there who long ago lost their love for the craft – and there are as many who never have – that should write with such apologetic tones.
Stop worrying about the labels.
Pro. Amateur. Whatever. If you love this craft and you’re a passionate student of it, then you are a photographer. No less. If we must qualify the label, let’s find something more meaningful to which to aspire. I read recently that a great many photographers are struggling and frustrated. If that’s so let’s make it because the craft is hard. Expressing ourselves is hard. Let’s not make it harder for ourselves with unnecessary labels and comparisons. Do it for the love of it. That’s enough. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.