Everyone’s A F*cking Photographer

In Rants and Sermons, The Craft, The Life Creative by David34 Comments

(A Labour-Day Weekend Rant for you, with apologies to those who cringe when I cuss.)

Last time I was in Venice I saw a camera-ladened photographer, a huge tripod slung over his shoulder, turn to a friend and gesture to the crowds of people happily making photographs with their mobile phones, as he sneered, “now everybody thinks they’re a f*cking photographer.”

I wish he’d said it to me. I wish I’d had the chance to ask him: So?

It’s true. With more cameras in the world than ever before, and most of those in mobile phones, many of us don’t go anywhere without one. More than ever our lives are recorded. We’re cranking out, and sharing, photographs at a rate that would make George Eastman twitch. We are, certainly, the most photographed, and the most photographing, generation ever.

Why the photographer struggling under all his gear in Venice is so bent out of shape about it is anyone’s guess. Perhaps his cappuccino made him gassy and bloated. But it’s likely this: when he bought his first camera there was a mystique to the archetype of the traveling photographer, already well-worn and covered in dust from foreign lands. He probably scrimped and saved for that first camera, and it took him a long time to master his craft. The word “photographer” conjured something for him. Something important. It was a badge of honour. A trophy. And it probably became a golden calf.

None of us likes to see our golden calf trampled by the masses. Of course, that’s not really what’s happening, but it’s how these particular photographers see the mass-adoption of the craft that once made them so special and self-important. Like pearls before the swine, they think, which is of course ridiculous because the very democratic nature of this craft that is causing such mass-adoption is what allowed them entry too.

They cringe because it’s not about photography to them. It’s about them. It’s about ego. And that’s a shame because one of the gifts of this craft is the opening of our eyes to a world that is so much bigger than ourselves. The gift of photography, and that we can – yes, all of us – be photographers, is that it is a way of seeing the world and being more alive in the world and the more of us that have our eyes open, the better.

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.

Photography opens eyes and minds and hearts.

Photography is a means of interacting.

It is a means of flexing our much needed creativity.

It’s a means of holding time still and cherishing our moments in a way we might not otherwise do.

It’s a way of asking questions and seeking and honouring beauty.

It can be a way of challenging our assumptions and discovering worlds beyond what we previously knew.

Photography has made my life richer.

It has given me tremendous freedom.

It has allowed this introverted kid to emerge from a shell I might have been trapped in forever.

And yes, it’s given me over the last dozen years or so, a means by which I make a living.

All of these are gifts I cherish. And I fear for the kid in Piazza San Marco who overhears the petty comments of the fearful and the jealous and puts his camera away, cutting himself off from such gifts just because some guy carries a large tripod to compensate for his small…heart, and can’t stand to share a pie he believes ought to be his alone. Why?

Because he got there first?

Because his camera is bigger or better?

Because his credit card has a larger limit or he’s read more articles on PetaPixel and knows what an anti-aliasing filter is or how to spell “Fibonacci” without Googling it as I just had to?

On behalf of every kid, young or old, who picks up the camera for the first time and finds in it joy and wonder and experiences the thrill of making their first photographs, no matter how bad they are, to hell with your judgements and elitism.

The rest of us love being photographers, some still very wet behind the ears, some making their first print sales, some walking a little bit terrified into their first gig and wondering if they can pull it off, some just doing it to see what the world looks like when photographed, even after all these years. Remember what that felt like? We do. And there’s room in that wonder for all of us.

To all of you who still chase the magic, keep going. Keep learning, playing, chasing the wonder and the magic. Remember there’s a vast difference between exposing your film or your sensor, and exposing your souls, and that those who do the former without doing the later, won’t – no matter what they call themselves – experience the freedom and joy of this craft that way you do.

Everyone is a f*cking photographer?

Sure.

And it’s about f*cking time.

Comments

  1. I want to kiss you for this.
    An eloquent and verbose version of an idea I believe and wholeheartedly agree with.

    1. Author

      Kiss away! 🙂 Will be thinking of you as I fly through AKL in a few days. Will be waving toward Waiheke.

  2. “It has allowed this introverted kid to emerge from a shell I might have been trapped in forever.” Boy does this one resonate with me. I made friends with some of the most amazing people through my camera and photography, its not just about the photographs but the exchange and interaction between souls or kindred spirits.

  3. Excellent post David!
    I love when I see people getting interested in photography and then taking it to the next level. I’m always happy to give advise and encouragement.

  4. I have felt this “everyone is a f***ing photographer myself for some time now. It has never really bothered me to the point where I have thought it to harm what I do and why. Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing. I do see it as a double-edged sword. You pointed out the edge that cuts the banana cream pies, chocolate cake, and our favorite kind of pizza. But one must not completely ignore the opposite edge. The one that can slice your hand and cause sever bleeding if not careful.
    It’s kind of like the old saying, “when everything is an emergency then nothing is an emergency”. So, would it be safe to say; if everyone is a photographer, no one is a photographer? If everyone is the same thing, then what does that say for the “thing”?
    There must be criteria that when met classifies what something is. It cannot be, “just because I say so”. Saying something does not make it so. It’s fine if everyone wants to be or calls themselves a photographer, more power to them. But in the end, they must prove it. When they fail to, should they still be considered, “a photographer”?
    It is such an ambivalent thing, being a photographer. There may be no answer that is suitable and that may be why so many love the craft so much. As long as you are true to yourself “and” the craft, you probably are a photographer.

  5. Agreed although there is a point with Selfie sticks where I think we can draw a line 🙂 – otherwise Mobile photos can be a great way to “see how the world looks when photographed” – i love that line as that speaks volumes to my own case of why I love curiosity and creativity of photography!
    … but then I had to spell out “antialiasing” 3 times to get it right too!

    Thanks David – you’re always a great Rantographer too!

  6. This is what Charles Harbutt had to say about photographers and cameras:

    “Photography is a reality high. It comes from that impulse which makes one turn and say: “Hey, did you see that?” On one level, it is the photographer’s experience of reality speaking directly to his viewer’s experience of reality. That magic little box enables one to leave, in a small way and for a short while, one’s own time and space and to occupy, maybe only superficially, another time and space, a then and there that really existed as well as a here and now. Photographs are both real images and imaged realities. This is both unique among media and new in human experience. We are now confronted with a medium that can do something no other medium can. Photography can give us a two-dimensional delineation of the real world. It is the closest human technology has come to reproducing and sharing that aspect of life known as visual perception. A photograph is able to preserve, like the memory, the raw material, the input data of one’s human experience of life or at least what one person considered memorable enough to point a camera at.”

  7. I bought a mirrorless camera last April for my vacation because I mistakenly thought that it would automatically take better pictures than my smartphone. Suffice to say, I was disappointed when my camera pics were worse than my smartphone pics. I felt terrible. I felt that I wasted money.

    And then I thought “Since I paid top dollar for this, might as well learn how to use it”. I started learning about ISO, aperture, shutter speed and exposure. I read about composition. I read blogs, watched YT videos on how to take pictures that really impressed me.

    In the next vacation that I took, I applied all that I learned and got much better photos that I had before. I was amazed! I never thought that photography would be so fulfilling. I enjoyed it so much that I got a prime lens to improve my composition skills.

    My greatest fear was to be ridiculed for my bad photos and sneered at for being a newbie. I was fortunate that the people I meet weren’t these kinds of people. As an introverted person, I would have been discouraged and would have not explored photography at all.

    So cheers to you for welcoming us newbies to the fold!

  8. I love this! Photography has been a passion of mine for over three decades and I finally decided to make it a “career” a while back. It took me a long time to label/identify myself as a “photographer” (especially because in my city I felt it was almost like saying that I am a massage therapist). And, in the world of everyone caring a camera in their pockets, it is tough at times. And, yes, images bring us closer together as we walk through this crazy world. Thank you for this!

  9. Everyone IS a photographer, at least those with the requisite gear. The same as everyone with a pencil is a graphic artist. Anyone see graphic artists sweating over the use of pencils?

    Concentrate on the inner struggle to be your best, heaven knows I personally have enough internal demons without adding a few more. external ones And for petes sake, what is wrong with having a bit more joy in the world? That is what photographs bring to most people.

  10. I think you have it ALL wrong.

    Youre attempting to make a defensive case for non artists by criticizing the artist who dedicates his life and being to his art.

    The rising fear and distaste for intellectualism and artistic “snobbery” is just a defensive,fear based argument by the mass of people who want an ”in”. They don’t really think being called an artist or photographer is a bad thing, otherwise everyone wouldn’t identify with it on their profile.

    The reality is that everyone wants it easy and they can fake it easy. Trying to dismiss passionate artists with training,experience and who have made it their life’s purpose as “snobs” or “elitist” lets the average person think they can lay claim to the same title by eliminating the competition. I think YOU feel threatened and not the other way around. The artists just feel disrespected and disheartened at the arrogance of people who lazily want to “democratize” art.

    But only an artist understands the reality of this truth and what being an artist has always demanded of ones life every hour of the day throughout all of time,regardless of medium. It’s a sacrifice, one that few are actually able to commit to.

    So the answer to the question: is everyone a photographer because they takes photographs? Yes. But if one is really asking whether everyone is a photographic artist, that’s absolutely not true and we all know it.

    HOWEVER, it IS a great thing that everyone now has at least some general understanding of photographic mechanics,technic and terminology so that most anyone can more easily read and understand the work of an actual photographic artist. It helps the artist to be better received when the non artist audience is viewing the artistic photograph.

    You’re also leaving out these other very obvious things which, again, only an artist would consider: the particularities of medium.

    The only way to give weight to the argument you’re trying to make here is to lay out the distinctions of medium to determine whether a person is an artist in that medium. But you don’t even go near that type of argument.

    At best, one may claim to be an artist of digital phone photography because they’ve mastered the physical medium and output of that specific kind.

    But even at that, without a comprehensive understanding, commitment and connection to art history, no one should be calling them self an artist because being an artist concerns all of human history and how it connects to now and what it will communicate long after the artist dies.

    Art is about eternity and we know that the majority is also not photographing with infinity in mind.

  11. “But if one is really asking whether everyone is a photographic artist, that’s absolutely not true and we all know it.”

    I agree. But that’s not what I’m asking.

  12. Yes anyone can claim to be a photographer these days because the name has lost all meaning, and yes, most simply don’t care that it has lost all meaning.

    Buy a camera, and call yourself a photographer.

    I wonder if that works with other items?

    If I bought a stethoscope, can I call myself a doctor? How about if I bought a set of ratchets, can I call myself a mechanic? What if I bought a plunger, can I call myself a plumber?

    Nope. Buying those items doesn’t exact equate the same way.

    Maybe if I bought a hammer I could then call myself a carpenter? Nope, that still doesn’t work does it.

    The other side of that argument is that the tool must be used.

    So if I buy a toilet, install the toilet, and use the toilet, I should be able to get on the internet and call myself a plumber. Nope, that probably wouldn’t work either.

    I know, I can buy a light bulb, install the light bulb, and use the light bulb and I’ll be able to claim that I am an electrician. Nope, that still doesn’t work.

    Then there is the ultimate version of this failed idea. What if I can get paid.

    So I buy some tools and build my neighbor a bird house and he pays me $20. Am I now a professional carpenter?

    I wonder if I went down to the local club and danced the night away. Can I then jump on internet and tell the world that I am a dancer?

    Nope, I guess not.

    I can’t seem to find another item that upon purchase changes the owner into something new.

    It is certainly a brave new world out there, where anyone can buy a camera and get to make themselves feel better by claiming that they are now a “photographer”.

    I guess the rest of their life has so little meaning that any temporary escape from it by claiming to be something else is a good thing.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I just bought a new spatula and need to spend the rest of the day on the internet claiming to be a chef.

  13. Good use of analogy. Except every example you’ve used relates or implies a professional designation. Photographer does not imply “Professional photographer.” I can use analogy too: if I knit, I’m a knitter. If I swim I am a swimmer. If I run I am a runner. If I play guitar I am a guitarist.

    At no point in my article do I imply that to be a photographer one must do so for the money. Is that your dividing line? See that’s the problem with your argument. Now you get to decide who is and who isn’t. So what’s your criteria? You’ve established that those who do it for the love of it can’t be photographers. Fine. What about the others? Do we need to make a certain amount of money? Do we need to make work you like? Belong to Worldwide League of Professional Photographers?

    I’ve noticed the only ones who take this line of argument are the so-called pros. What are you scared of?

  14. I couldn’t help grinning broadly at moments while reading your article… So recognizable! 😀

    Glad I met you… will be back…

  15. Taking snapshots with a phone (or camera) does not make you a photographer. It makes you a ‘snapshoter’!

  16. Love your inclusive spirit, David. The world needs more of this. Thank you.

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