Professional Photography is dead! The Corpse just doesn't stink yet!
I already know the responses I'm likely to get from this article and I'd like nothing better than to be proven wrong.
People are going to say things like: "Well if you weren't such a crap photographer maybe you wouldn't feel this way..." "The cream will always rise to the top..." "Maybe anyone can take a photograph but amateurs don't understand composition like we pros do..." "There'll always be a market for professional photographers..." and "Fuck you! You're just a negative prick!"
People will passionately proclaim their wedding/commercial/advertising/editorial photography (fill in whatever is appropriate) business is flourishing and that I'm just full of it and, maybe if I were a better photographer, I wouldn't write this garbage.
Naturally few, if any, will supply numbers to back up their claims.
Be that as it may. Professional photography is dead and though the corpse may not yet be fully rotted and stinking, anyone who believes otherwise is lying to himself.
Of course there are exceptions, and examples like Roger Ballen, Salgado and Alain Briot will be pointed out. But just as Stephen King, Amanda Hocking and John Locke are successful self-published Amazon Kindle authors, so there are around 1.8 million other authors on that platform who make less than $100 a year on it. Are they all crap writers? Nope. In the pile there are certainly many, many who are probably equally good but, as is the case in photography, it's hard for buyers to know who they are. Locke and Hocking became millionaires by being the first to offer their books at the ridiculous price of $0.99. The tactic saw them sell hundreds of thousands of books but their success forced others to follow suit and the de facto price for novels written by non-big-name authors, tumbled to $0.99! The next step in the rush to garner readers, was to offer books for free, in the hope readers would fall in love with the writers and be prepared to shell out for subsequent works. According to most reports, that seldom happened.
What has in fact occurred is the perceived value of writing has diminished. If you can download a good book for free, why would you ever pay $10 dollars for it - unless it were written by Stephen King?
At any given moment there are thousands of free books on offer on Amazon and if their authors value their work so lowly - then they must be crap, right?
Cheap digital cameras
Exactly the same thing has happened in photography.
Cheap digital cameras have made photography accessible to just about anyone and spawned the rise of "uncle Joes" and "momtographers": stay at home moms who've taken up photography as a hobby and a way to earn extra money. But what has this done to the industry?
It has created an overwhelming flood of images that makes it difficult for people to know the difference between good and bad photography. Instagram and Hipstamatic have made many believe pictures of their feet are works of art worthy of being displayed on gallery walls!
Nowadays, all that's required to call yourself a professional photographer is a camera - it can be an entry level model because, let's be honest, even they are capable of taking incredible photographs - a business card (optional), Facebook page and a way to overlay text on the bottom of a snapped photograph that reads "Joe Blogs Photographic."
No doubt, pros will counter that they use professional equipment, have back up bodies and lenses, carry insurance etc., and those are all valid points, but increasingly clients don't care. They're happy with images that are in focus and can be posted on Facebook pages.
Photography has become a throw-away commodity.
Don't believe me? Think that those who know quality will always want it?
On 31 May last year (2013) the Chicago Sun-Times fired it's entire photographic staff, including a Pulitizer Prize-winning photographer who had been with the group since 1978. To fill the gap their regular reporters were taught "iPhone photography basics."
When Hurricane Sandy landed in New York, Sun-Times management was quick to point out, reporters for Time used the magazine's Instagram account to upload photos. One of the reporters' photos was even used for the cover story.
In a widely circulated editorial in the Chicago Tribune (the Sun-Times' rival paper) photographer Alex Garcia pointed out the many problems with the approach.
"An iPhone is just an iPhone. It doesn’t have a telephoto to see way past police lines or across a field, ballroom or four-lane highway," Garcia said. "It doesn’t have a lot of manual controls to deal with the countless situations that automatic exposure will fail to capture. How many situations are 18 percent gray, anyway?"
All of those arguments are completely valid but made not the slightest difference.
In South Africa this month (July 2014) the Sunday Times and The Times retrenched an unprecedented 11 photographers.
57 wedding photographers
I live in a small town in South Africa that has fallen on hard times as a result of local gold mines shutting down. There are 57 "wedding photographers" here, pretty well all of whom are equipped with a digital camera, painfully slow kit zoom lens (most don't know what that means) and built-in, pop up flash. Their standard operating procedure is to speculatively shoot around 1400 images, download them, burn a CD and present it to the client at the end of the wedding. They justify this mediocrity as "photojournalistic wedding photography," although the nearest any of these "photographers" has ever come to photojournalism is buying a newspaper from a street-corner vendor.
They are happy to work at a rate that, in many cases, just covers traveling expenses. But the client is happy because he's never seen better or "just good enough" is indeed good enough.
For many clients that is what they expect because, at any function, hundreds of photographs will be taken with mobile phones and by the mom and pop photographers there. And invariably there'll be a student looking to build up a portfolio who is happy to do the job for free.
Recently, a young-buck newspaper sports photographer asked how I was able to shoot a motorcycle race with a manual Nikkormat that doesn't autofocus, has no motor-drive and does not allow me to immediately see the shot taken. He spoke from behind some or other 10 frames per second DSLR. As soon as I started to explain zone focussing and the decisive moment, his eyes glazed over. He had no clue what I was talking about and mumbled that those things didn't bother him, he simply put the camera on "auto" and, of the hundreds of images he shot, was sure some would be good enough for publication.
I do not think it is the guy shooting for free that is going to finally put the pro out of business. I think the wave of technology - in much the same way easily-used office software signalled the doom of typists - and the general acceptance of mediocrity, where purchasers of photography can't recognise the quality offered by the true professional, will do that.
I am not alone in thinking this. Check out this site: http://youarenotaphotographer.com/
Let the hatin' begin!