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A few weeks ago I took a day off and went to the beach. Sitting with a new friend I was greeted with a wonderful quote.
“Photography is great because you don’t have to know anything about it to do it.”
I don’t think my new friend knew the brilliance of this quote, and his intention was not in a critical direction, not by a long-shot, but he brought up a valid and accurate point.
For the consumer, this idea, that someone can know nothing about photography and still do it, is a wonderful opening into the world of picture making.
But on the flip-side, this reality has eroded much of the professional photography world, and will continue to do so, at least in my humble opinion.
Currently, much of our industry is fueled by companies selling the idea of “push here stupid,”(someone else came up with this slogan) and selling equipment, software and other technical gadgets that take the skill and vision out of making pictures.
“Anyone can do it.”
“Fix it in Photoshop.”
“Shoot an endless number of pictures.”
“You don’t need to hire a photographer because now YOUR the photographer.”
Photography is accessible. That’s it. In a nutshell. Every protagonist has a tragic flaw, and these warm, open arms of photography are both a blessing and a curse. Like water finding a crack in the concrete and what once was a small fissure is now a blown-apart foundation.
Standing in front of a blank canvas, with tubes of oil and having someone say, “Okay, paint,” is a terribly humbling experience. I know. I had a life -drawing class in college, filled with wonderfully talented artists…..and me. I dreaded this class, really dreaded it, because I sucked at drawing, sketching, painting, etc. And when I say sucked I really mean it. I’ve got ZERO skill in this department, among others. At the end of class we would turn our easel’s around and face the wrath of our fellow participants. I would sneak to the other side of the room, as my abandoned easel stood in front of the firing line being ripped to shreds. The only sound I heard was my knees knocking together. Luckily, my highly trained prof took pity on me and gave me the mercy grade, probably to guarantee my presence would never again be felt in the arts building.
With photography, my canvas was already painted. I dissected it and I sold it, and I still do.
“Shoot enough pictures and something will turn out,” has become the battle cry of an entire photographic generation.
Think I’m crazy? I was at a trade show and heard some “featured photographer” stand in front of the audience and say he shot “10,000 images by myself,” during a wedding…and everyone clapped! No joke.
How did this become photography? When did this become admirable?
If you still think I’m nuts, then I’ll relay a small story from a friend who recently had an experience to backup my point.
My friend has kids. A photographer was hired to photograph these kids.
Okay, multiple choice.
This hired photographer:
A. Came with one camera and lens, neither suited for the job.
B. Had no understanding of light.
C. Had no knowledge of photography.
D. Had no ability to shoot anything moving.
E. Had no knowledge of how to post-process the images.
F. Shoots all kinds of paying commercial jobs.
G. All the above.
If you answered “G” then you are well on your way to becoming a photo-legend.
What is my point with all this? No idea.
Okay, maybe my point is that I believe that photography is something that needs to be learned, and not something that can be bought, downloaded, copied, finished at the computer, or has anything to do with the latest gadget or gizmo.
I have a degree in Photojournalism. What has this meant to those hiring me?. Perhaps not that much. I’m not saying you have to go to school for photography, although I think for many people this can be a fantastic experience and the best thing they could possibly do. But at some point a photographer has to “learn” what photography means to them, what their style is, how they want to see the world and how they want to present it.
“But Dan, what about the brilliant self taught photographers out there?”
I believe that the great self-taught photographer still learned photography. They discovered what their vision was, by trial and error, failure, etc, and used these experiences to become great, self-taught visionaries.
Sounds easy. It isn’t.
It takes some soul searching, and what I fear is that photography, for the most part, at least commercial photography has lost it’s soul. It’s up to the photographers to get it back.
I’ve said this before, and will probably say it again and again and again. Why? It just seems like we are going in the opposite direction. There probably isn’t anything I can do about it. It seems the train has left the station, and working in this manor of buying equipment, shooting thousands of images and then post-processing them seems to be the way of the future.
If it is, I guess it is our responsibility to just admit we brought it on. What we can’t do is complain about the industry, or complain that clients don’t want to pay reasonable rates. Why would they when they can get a camera and do it themselves?