The diminishment of the pro photographer

The diminishment of the pro photographer

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, kicked off a bit of a storm in the photography world at a media event yesterday. Announcing new changes in Flickr and some Yahoo acquisitions, she remarked that there were “no professional photographers anymore” but rather people of “different skill levels.”  The statement was made to justify Flickr’s elimination of the Flickr Pro level of account (don’t worry, if you had such an account prior to May 20, 2013, you will be able to keep it if you like).  You can see the video of the whole Yahoo! event here – the comments come at 46:20.

The response has been rather interesting, from outrage over the disparagement of photojournalists throughout history, to indifference (“who cares what anyone says … if I cared about respect, I would’ve become a lawyer”) to economic (“Just canceled my Flickr Pro account.”)

When it comes down to it, this statement, by the CEO of the company with one of the world’s largest online digital libraries, is further evidence of how the explosion of digital photography (and the proliferation of micro stock sites) has generally eroded appreciation for professional photographers. We live in an age where the purchase of a DSLR somehow gives someone the impression that they are now a professional photographer. 

Facebook is rife with pages set up by Joe Schmoe Photography or Jane Doe Photography, yet a review of the “company’s” images indicates that the photographer is an amateur or hobbyist at best.  Further research would likely reveal that the proprietor of the account likely does not have a business license, does not sell images online, does not maintain a physical gallery or studio, or fails to have any other combination of factors displaying the indicia of a real business.  The photographer likely does not have any formal training or is a member of any professional photography association.   I have received many requests to “Like” such photo pages, and, after reviewing the images on their wall, refused to respond to such requests.

The same goes with how the explosion of the digital age has led people to doubt that a strong, dynamic image can be real (“Pondering the question ‘Is that Photoshopped’?“) while simultaneously creating a phenomenon where people easily believe that an obviously manufactured image is somehow a “photograph.”

And since so many people have cameras and claim they are “pros,” more and more people do not question themselves first before they ask a professional photographer for free photos.  I have been asked more than once if someone could just get a download of an image so they could make a print of one of my photos on their home printer, or want a free download to use as a desktop on their computer, or want to use one of my images in their publication for free (“But, we’ll give you credit for the photo!”).  These requests suggest that, since it is so easy to take a photo these days, photos aren’t worth much. Quite the contrary, as a lot of work goes into creating spectacular images, and doing so as a business.

Part of me says, “Well, real professional photographers can still distinguish themselves by having images of superior quality, composition, lighting and all of those other things that make a strong image.” But yet, my observations on social media belie that small bit of comfort.  People are more apt to “Like” a crappy image on Facebook if it is from a location they have heard of than a far superior image from some location remote and foreign to them.  Or they will “Like” an image that is obviously a grotesquely manufactured graphic illustration, commenting “Beautiful photo!” “No, it’s not a photo!” I scream in my head.

The explosion in digitial photography has led to the diminishment of professional photographers because the consumers themselves have become so saturated with crap they don’t even know what constitutes good photography anymore.  And perhaps that is what really lies at the heart of Ms. Mayer’s comments, and at what she and other business executives expect to be at the heart of their clientele – consumers with a lot of money who are spending it on their own capacity to take images while simultaneously becoming more and more immune to an understanding of the art itself. It has become less about quality and more about quantity.  But, I suppose, with Flickr’s business model, how many photos are uploaded (and how much storage space is needed) is all that matters, not whether the art of photography – and the pros who rely on it – is being furthered in any meaningful way.

One Response to “The diminishment of the pro photographer”

  1. Kathy Hodge Says:

    I do wonder how professional photographers are surviving these days. I remember when stock photos were expensive, one use only luxuries for graphic artists, but at least it must have provided some income for photographers. Now sunsets and sailboats are a dime a dozen, and usually worth that much. I also see on FB people posting *photos* of “Earth’s most amazing places” that are so obviously Photoshop compilations, but they are buying into it totally.

    I work in the newspaper business and have seen many of our extremely talented photographers laid off from the haven of photo journalism struggling to make a living doing weddings, pet photos and video. I don’t know what the solution is, so many occupations have lost their income stream in this digital revolution. It does make me grateful that I work in a medium that was already obsolete a couple of hundred years ago, pigment and oil on canvas. Not that there’s any money or recognition in that either.

    But I for one enjoy your photos extremely, and know that you spend many hours waiting for the earth’s beauty to peak — it takes an artist to know when to snatch those fleeting moments. Hang in there!

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