This article first appeared on Medium.com
“Everyone is a photographer”,seems to be the thing to say when a professional photographer wants to offer their services.
We all have the means with which to take a photograph these days.
But really, does that make everybody professional?
If you own a really powerful car that will hit 160 mph in a few seconds, and has the ability to accelerate out of trouble at high speed, does that make you a professional motor racer? I don’t think so.
Photography is an art. I know, there are many professional photographers out there who would tell me that it isn’t an art, they will point out that it’s a business and a way to make an income. They fail to see it as an art because it doesn’t fit their view of their own life and goals.
Photography is image making. Often, artists are ‘makers’.
The first contraptions that took photos were boxes with complicated lenses, and manually controlled exposure times. The photographer had to open the lens cap and allow light and the perceived image to become exposed to the plate inside. Then after the photographer stopped counting the seconds, they put the cap back on to block the light, they went away and developed the negative into a permanently fixed image that they could wave around in front of an editor or sell to the people captured in the image.
At that time, around the 1880s, painters were getting pretty upset about this new machine. It was clearly a threat to their livelihood of selling paintings, portraits especially.
People bought paintings back in those days like they bought tables and chairs for the dining room.
If painters, who were artist and not house painters, saw that the camera threatened their industry, then surely they knew an artisan object when they saw one. After all, they’d been in the business of creating art longer than the newly invented “professional photographers”.
Even today a room without images on the walls is an uncomfortable place to stay. A bit like a prison cell, a place without soul.
Painters who created art, were also in the business of creating the homely soul that occupied a house. Portraits, landscapes, still-lifes, were all great sellers and kept painters in food and shelter.
The photographic machine was a brand new piece of technology that was clearly going to blow Van Gogh and company out of the picture.
The intellectual battle of wits between painters and the newfangled photographers went on for about 40 years. Then one day, a very confident painter, maybe Picasso, pointed out that, so far, painting and photography have got along just fine together. It’s no threat to the brush and palette, people still love the look of paint and the early adopters love the black and white images that photographers are doing.
Photographers and painters relaxed, but just to be sure about things, painters everywhere started painting people to look like bananas and apples instead of the traditional idea of looking like they did.
That put things right, because it gave photographers a chance to capitalise in the market for portraits of people who wanted to see themselves in a dignified way.
Many people didn’t buy the self-image of themselves with a Bob Square pantshead and banana fingers. Picasso had cornered that market and was making a bucket load of money convincing people that from where he stood, they had square heads and banana fingers.
Photographers were treated to regular updated versions of their favourite toy. Carrying a big box around with them and keeping lots of flash powder available in the wet weather was a difficult task.
Kodak stepped in and showed photographers a new version of their high tech camera. The Boy-Scout became popular in the 1930s because it was portable and later the famous Brownie became the go to camera for amateurs and professionals, Kodak soon developed it with an internal flash.
Imagine the looks on photographer’s faces when they realised that to be a country-wide professional photographer, offering to travel and take a family portrait, or to click the likeness of some statesman in New York, would lead to regular income from their work.
Sure, there had been professional camera people around since the first box-like Kodak camera came on the market in 1900, but it was an expensive piece of kit and required knowledge to get a well finished shot. Maybe, it was an art.
Mid-twentieth century, post war economical booms and the new technologies made advances with camera tech a regular thing. Plastics had a hand in changing manufacturing views and created the possibility of a cheaper and smaller camera than previous versions.
Soon, everybody owned a camera, often it was the Kodak Brownie which came in handy around Christmas times in most families.
Post-Christmas January, rolls of camera film would sit and gather dust on the mantelpiece until May, then somebody took them to be developed. Families would take a few moments to gasp at the blotchy looking faces in the photos, then put them away in the drawer to be forgotten for the next ten years.
Professional photographers started to see the value of all this new equipment that was easy to carry, and flash guns that could be stashed in the same bag that they used for travel.
Film rolls became a little cheaper and the set-up for your own dark-room became simple.
Artistically minded photographers, driven by a deep desire to connect with people and capture that very special moment, began to offer their artistic services to individuals and organisations who need to record an image of their greatness.
The skills of a professional photographer were the same as that of an artist. To “capture” something special in a small moment of truth. Nobody was going to pay good money for a snap shot the same as dad could do at Christmas, it had to have a little magic in it.
Professional photographers had a problem, they had to convince the client that although the whole photographic sitting would be over in five minutes flat, the results would be a worthy piece of art to adorn the home.
While painters and artists suffered at the easel and typewriters for weeks on end, photographers could set up a scene and take a series of images within minutes, and then deliver the results hours later.
Fast art had been invented and it suited a lot of busy people with empty wall space.
The popularity of becoming a professional photographer increased, everybody thought they’d have go and make a few bucks.
The introduction of the Polaroid Camera made it even faster, and people like Andy Warhol saw the opportunity to keep artistic integrity, yet still be a capitalist. He would simple take a photo and tell the person that it is art — and they would believe him. To this day, his photos, paintings and Polaroids are worth millions.
Andy Warhol painted, made lithographs, and took photos. People said he was an artist. He was a clever businessman who took a leaf out of Picasso’s book and realised that he had to convince the people that what he did was of high value to them.
“Computers are useless, they can only give you answers.” Pablo Picasso
Picasso, Andy Warhol, and others all knew that to achieve their goals as artists, they had to work with the expectations of the people, their customers.
“I want to live as a poor man, but with money.”, Pablo Picasso.
Photographers find themselves in the same position as the painters of the past. When the camera came along and threatened the value of the painter’s work, they thought that painting would become extinct.
Everybody is different and has varied needs. Just because a person owns an expensive camera, or their Smart Phone can take nicely finished photos, it doesn’t make them instant professionals.
Photography is a business that enjoys the possibility of being an art. Anytime the photographer, who is skilled, realises that she is more of the artistic bent than of the all business and money type of person, she can learn to combine the skills of capturing the special moments.
The ability to understand light and colour, the looking deeper mentality that requires knowledge of self and others to achieve, and the business skills to offer something special that the painters of yesterday immediately saw as a threat. Fast Art with a camera.