A friend of mine has had a couple of annoying experiences lately. In the first she did some photos for somebody starting out as a makeup artist (who had decided what sort of photos she wanted by picking out pro model photos on location from Pinterest and offering her friends in the back garden of course), which started as “I’ll pay you”, turned into “I’ll buy you lunch” and fairly quickly back into “No, You’ll pay me!”. Got her money eventually but no thanks and no credit for the photos when they got shared around. The other was photographing a friend’s wedding, a very low key affair but here we are, three weeks down the line, and the friend hasn’t said thank you yet. So she’s feeling a bit put upon, as though people are taking advantage of her skills.
We thought about this and decided that it’s because everyone’s a photographer now.Only of course, they’re not. Unlike other skills, now everybody has a smartphone, and digital cameras are cheap, and you can clock up hours watching Youtube videos on how to take better landscapes/portraits/kiddie photos/whatever then people lose sight of the fact that actual photographers are skilled experts who understand what they’re doing rather than just clicking away or rote following what they’ve seen on Youtube. Last series of Masters of Photography I’m pretty sure Oliviero Toscani said something like “you give a camera to monkey it goes click, it doesn’t make it a photographer”. It’s odd really, because everybody who can use a spanner doesn’t think they’re a car mechanic and everybody who can mow a lawn think they’re a landscape architect. Part of the blame for this I think lies with the huge volume of online photo sharing; let’s be honest, a huge percentage of the photos on Instagram really just aren’t that great, and a lot of the stuff on Youtube is pretty samey, and if this is all people see then they just start seeing all images as the same. I reckon you could spend a lot of time looking at photos of ‘models’ on the ‘gram before you saw something to even come close to Bailey’s 1962 photos of Jean Shrimpton in New York (and yes, they’re personal favourites of mine, you can pick your own).
I think that, ultimately, as photographers we just have to accept the fact that a whole of people just don’t realise that a good photograph is not (generally) produced by pointing a camera and clicking. After all that’s how they produce a photograph, that’s all photographers on telly and youtube are doing, therefore that’s all there is to it. What they’re missing is that the photographer is thinking and clicking, they’re aware of lamp posts sticking out of heads, of how the sunlight is hitting the model, of how blurry the background is, and they made choices based on this before they began taking photos. A couple of years ago I sat in a cafe in Piazza Navona in Rome and watched, with mounting frustration, people photographing their friends and loved ones in front of the fountains; hell it’s one of those things you simply have to do. But every single pigging one of them had the friend facing straight into the Roman sunshine and I knew full well that every one of them was going to have a photo of their friend or partner squinting in Rome, or at least with killer shadows which was going to make it look like a mug shot. Of course I photographed my wife in front of a fountain in Piazza Navona, it really is something you have to do…but on the other side of a fountain facing away from the sun. I have a photo of her smiling in Rome with her hair (she has great hair) nicely backlit by the same light which was blinding everybody else. I got this because I knew what was happening and made choices about the image accordingly.
Everybody isn’t a photographer, and if people want to get one to take photos for them, then they need to realise it’s no more just ‘pointing and clicking’ than fixing a car engine is ‘doing up a few nuts and bolts’ and at least say thanks and treat the snapper with some respect