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I am an old photographer, (duh!) That means I have been taking pictures seriously for a very long time (forty years to be exact in 2012.) It also suggests I have some kind of wisdom to offer young photographers, which may or may not be true. Arguably, the most common question I get from young photographers is what would I do if I were starting out in today’s photography market. My answer usually starts with “I don’t know” and ends with “I’m glad I am not.” Since neither of those are a real answers, I owe a real answer to readers (and to a friend who asked me that same question recently.)
Some of what shows up in my e-mail box makes me feel like I am getting old fast (or at least becoming old-school in my thinking.) A couple recent e-mails triggered this reaction again, but something in me pushed back and made me say to myself, “…maybe I am right and the change swirling around me is wrong.” Since this whole internal tug-of-war involved photography, it seemed like a natural topic for a blog entry.
I tell my students, especially those who ask me questions outside of the classroom setting, that there are group questions and there are individual questions. The former being something that when answered in front of the whole class will benefit the entire group, especially those students who will learn from my answer, even if they have yet to articulate the question. The latter usually are more individual queries and are often best answered one-on-one. They are more typically “what is the meaning of life” kind of questions. One of the students in my photo-essay class in Singapore recently asked me what seemed like an “individual” question. As soon as I started thinking about (and writing to answer her, I realized it was really a group question (and this blog is the overdue group answer.)
When I was first starting out as a photographer, I spent a lot of time with a few “grumpy old photographers.” Since I was the “young whippersnapper” back then, I was the butt of many of their jabs and barbed comments. I generally took it all in stride because I knew what I was learning from them was incredibly valuable. I also secretly hoped that I would survive long enough in the business of publication photography to become a “grumpy old photographer” too. As I have slowly earned the designation of “older,” I often wondered what was going to make me as “grumpy” as those guys. That finally happened recently and it surprised me when it did.
I make most of my living as a stock photographer. Stock photography is rapidly changing. Those changes have been impacting me (and my peers) for quite a while. So far you are thinking to yourself, none of this is big news. The news is that recently, the pace of that change hit a tipping point for me (and I am guessing for the larger world of stock photography.) If you care about photography in general (and stock photography in particular,) then what has been happening lately is especially bad news.
There are numerous aphorisms about what separates the serious/successful photographer from the amateurs/posers. Great quotes, such as: “Hobby photographers worry about equipment; Professional photographers worry about money; Master photographers worry about light” are already out there. In this blog entry, I propose to add one more to the list.
Who are you taking pictures for? That’s a question that photojournalists hear a lot. But, I think ALL photographers should be asking themselves that question. In the process of sorting that question out, most photographers divide their efforts into “personal work,” and “commercial work.” I am not so sure about the wisdom of such clear demarcations.