I am a wedding photographer. I am a landscape photographer. I am a sports photographer. I am a street photographer.
Did I just openly contradict myself? I don't think so.
I've been thinking about what it is to be called a photographer the last few days, and a few certain blog posts made me think that I should offer a few words about my stance.
So why do I think that I don't contradict myself? It's because at this point in time, I don't differentiate myself in the kinds of things I photograph. In other words, I am not exclusively a wedding photographer, a landscape photographer, or a street photographer. But because I can and have photographed weddings, landscapes, and streets scenes, I claim to be all of those.
In a word, I'm a photographer. And chances are, you are too. If you've ever held a camera and documented the world in front of you, you are a photographer. It doesn't matter if you've taken one picture in your lifetime or a million, whenever you're in the moment of capturing a photograph, the entire experience - how you're standing, the way you're interacting with the environment, whether or not you're adjusting your aperture - makes you a photographer.
Look, it all comes down to this: what do I seek to do with the camera? I want to capture the world around me. I want to find beauty and share it with the world. At the end of the day, with every single click of the shutter button on my camera, I'm capturing a moment (also see this post). It could be an incoming wave that's about to soak me or a man taking a puff of the cigarette in New York City. The kind of camera I'm using and whether or not I have a 1.2 prime lens strapped to my dSLR doesn't really matter. Or rather, I should clarify: the equipment I may use may help me achieve a certain effect (and yes, that 1.2 prime will come in handy in a low lighting situations), but the experience of being in the moment, of being a photographer - that is much larger (and infinitely more powerful) than the sum of the lenses, cameras, or flashes I use.
But there are naysayers. There are those who defiantly stand on a pedastal and proclaim 'You cannot call yourself a photographer unless you're making money with it.' I don't know if anything I have just described above has resonated with you, but I want to be clear: I completely oppose the views of those individuals. To claim that one must make money to be called a photographer screams of jealousy, insecurity, and naïveté. Yes, if you want to make the distinction by qualifying the word with 'professional,' then that is fine by me. But don't let anyone tell you that you are not a photographer if you aren't making money with it.
I want to direct you to a post by David duChemin called 'A Question of Definition.' In it, David posits:
But so as not to be ambiguous, it needs to be understood that your art is not legitimized by how much money you make at it, if any. There are plenty of photographers of mediocre ability who make a living at this. There are many photographers who pay to do it, and subsidize their art by working as dentists, doctors, janitors, teachers, who are exceptional. To deny that they too are photographers merely because they choose not to sell their work, is not only ridiculous it’s offensive.
David goes on to say: 'To reduce our art or craft to legitimacy only when it’s kissed on the brow by the mighty dollar is perverse, bordering on creative prostitution.' I couldn't agree more. I don't consider myself a professional photographer. If someone wants to hire me after looking at the images they have seen on Erudite Expressions I feel highly honoured and encouraged, but the exchange of money doesn't make me a better photographer. This is why personal work is so important to me (and will remain so). I echo Chase Jarvis when he says in his video: 'I've been an advocate of personal work...for, I don't know...forever.'
David duChemin goes on to write:
There are photographers who by profession are accountants and teachers and taxi drivers and they may enjoy their work and find inspiration there. What matters is that you create, you express, you share, and you find a way to sustain that. How you sustain it is up to you.Those in camp Absurdistan who claim that you cannot be a professional photographer unless you're making money with the craft are either delusional, jealous, highly insecure, or utterly naïve. As David eloquently puts is: 'But money or no money I am a photographer because I am passionate about it, it’s the medium I love and through which I express myself.'
If you are just starting out with photography, keep going. Read David's post and his brilliant conclusion for some encouragement. I want to end this post with some of my thoughts as well.
The world is changing. I cannot stand elitist photographers who claim that they are better than someone else because they are making money with their craft (or for whatever other reasons). There are some professional photographers out there who feel threatened (for whatever reason) by other photographers who are, perhaps, just starting out. Perhaps these so-called 'professionals' think that eventually these photographers will become their competition. Make no mistake about it: these professional photographers lead sorry and pathetic lives.
I get so excited when someone emails me a question about one of my photos and wants to know how I captured it or what post-processing technique I used. I am at the point right now where people are asking me questions about high dynamic range photography, whether I could recommend a certain camera to them, or distill some advice on a certain lens that they are thinking about purchasing. I'm thrilled that some seek me out for advice, and I'm more than willing to help out best I can. I truly believe that if you're passionate about something, the most important thing you can do is share your passion with others.
Perhaps the definition of a photographer doesn't really matter. A more important question to ask is: why do I photograph? I mirror what one of my photographer friends, Jinna (also known as 'elusive'; see her amazing work here) writes in one of her flickr posts:
A lot of people ask me why I want to be a photographer and how I got into photography in the first place. It's not because of the money and not because I just 'like' to take pictures. It's the feeling I get when I am taking photos, the intense happiness I feel when I can enjoy the beauty of this world and capture the moment. To me there's no greater feeling in the world than when a photo turns out just the way I had it in mind. When I'm out shooting I forget about everything else, all troubles disappear and I feel happier than I've ever felt. I couldn't imagine NOT taking photos and I would be really unhappy if I wasn't able to do what I do. It's not just a hobby, it's a passion.
So I will continue taking pictures because it makes me feel alive. I will also continue sharing these pictures with you. Am I a photographer? You decide.
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