BitDepth 726 - April 13

Photographers face new challenges in the 21st Century, embracing new technologies must run in parallel with traditional business and photographic techniques if professional photographers hope to be successful.
The new photography

Thirty-five years ago, my mother brought this camera back from New York from me. It still works. The Pentax K1000, inexpensive and robust, was the single most successful camera in the history of the company. Long after Pentax stopped manufacturing it, it was still being built under contract by a Chinese manufacturer. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

After being included in a Facebook post on a recent
New York Times article about the upsurge in amateur photographers, I became engrossed in the discussion.
After getting over my surprise at photographers in the business for just a few years expressing worry about the state of the industry and the attitude of ‘new’ photographers, it seemed appropriate to offer some perspective.

Fear: Newbie photographers with expensive equipment are destroying the photography business.
Fact: Newbies with expensive equipment have always been threatening the photography business. That assault has intensified recently with the availability of well-programmed, computer driven cameras that are often smarter than the people holding them. 
Add to that mix widely pirated image editing software and clever plug-ins that apply sophisticated effects without requiring much user intervention or understanding.
This sort of migration of accessibility inevitably happens when technologies become easy to replicate, and their developers figure out how to sell the previously difficult to the eager public. 
In the late 1970’s “easy home darkrooms” and “home lighting kits” were being sold in the mad proliferation of photography magazines that characterized that era. This, I should point out, was at roughly the time that I began taking photography seriously, so there.

Outcome: Push-button photographers are only as good as the buttons that are available to press. There are many more buttons available today than ever before, but they don’t solve every problem and most are tailormade for very specific circumstances. Delivering work of consistent quality in challenging circumstances still requires a deep understanding of the principles of photography.

Fear: Photographers are close-minded and don’t share what they know.
Fact: Photography is, ultimately, a solitary pursuit. Only one eye looks through the viewfinder, one mind makes the judgement about the photographic variables; one hand guides the mouse in creating the final image.
That said, the greatest lever points in my own career as a photographer have come out of interactions with other photographers. When I knew absolutely nothing, Gary Chan, who ran a photo studio on Tragarete Road, would answer any question I asked him, as long as I would run around the corner to get him a fresh pack of cigarettes.

In the mid-1980’s, when I was having a crisis of confidence in my photography career, Noel Norton and Harold Prieto took time over a few evenings to talk to me in chats that forever changed the way I viewed the business of photography in Trinidad and Tobago.
Gary, Noel and Harold shared their experiences freely and they still know more than I ever will about photography. Honouring their generosity, I make time for any photographer who musters the nerve to ask me questions about this business.

Outcome: Sharing is learning. Photographers who don’t share and participate in their profession lose a great opportunity to challenge themselves against keen young minds.
The commoditizing of any artform does two things. It drags the craft into the realm of absurd awfulness, and it teaches novice practitioners just how much work is involved in the act of creating something from nothing. 

Markets are being fundamentally changed by the proliferation of cheap, acceptable photographs but that only pushes the most dedicated image makers to be smarter, more distinctive and more committed to this craft.
When everyone is a photographer, professionals need to live the marketing-speak, delivering striking work consistently while winning customer confidence. That still hasn’t been programmed into any modern digital camera.

Related: The Facebook discussion that inspired this column is
reproduced here...
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