As a design photographer, I wonder.
What was once considered one of the highest forms of art has been co-opted by the digital world. Today, anyone with a cell phone or an iPad is a “photographer.” Even your dog is an auteur with a GoPro strapped to its back.
LOOK MOM, I’M A PHOTOGRAPHER.
Nothing grabs us like an emotional image, but today, as we near the third decade of the 21st century, estimates say you have less than eight seconds to grab a reader’s attention. Typically, one or two images accompany every blog post or editorial, and with more than two million blogs posting daily, the net has morphed itself into a never-satiated wasteland of mediocrity. We are thus overwhelmed with underwhelming photos that don’t do what they’re supposed to do: attract readers.
But the never-ending need for more — coupled with mediocre standards that have, unfortunately, become commonplace — has made it acceptable for the “good enough” images to be, well, “good enough.” In this context, it has become difficult for marketing directors or content producers to justify collaboration with seasoned photographers — and this is where the idea of photography as a lost art concerns me.
To be fair, while there are umpteen substandard photos out there, many wonderful images are also being produced, whether due to genuine talent or to a knack for manipulating images. With quantity, there must also be the increased possibility of quality — happy accidents, if you will. But, even though a broken clock nails it twice a day, no one can claim it has a work ethic, style or personal vision.
ART IS CREATED, NOT SELFIED.
It is image excellence that separates true photography from the hastily snapped, uninspired photo. Anyone can catch a moment with some kind of camera, and with the widespread availability of cameras and capture devices, photography has become more of an extension of seeing and living. It’s more about spontaneity and capturing the moments of our lives in bulk rather than crafting images felt in the moment.
“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
It has transformed photography, creating a different type of photographer. Now, in addition to image makers, or artists — we have image takers. And it illustrates that while photography has changed, the need for image excellence for the true artist has not. This excellence defines the difference between collaboration with a photography professional and snapping a quick pic on a cell phone.
While on the surface photography has always been about capturing life’s precious fleeting moments, the artist uses special knowledge of photographic technique to create beauty. The artist adds a new dimension of soul to an image through the simple rules of composition, light quality and more.
IMAGE MAKERS CREATE, IMAGE TAKERS RECORD.
As an image maker, I know that every image I have ever made becomes part of the next photo I create. That history affects how I frame, how I light and how I expose. This is true for any photographer, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Robert Frank, Sarah Moon to Sally Mann. Every great photograph alters our perceptions and changes something fundamental about how we see and capture the world. It teaches us about bringing life moments into the light.
An image taker does not possess these connections to a long list of favorite images, whereas the image maker — the artist — is always aware of the influence of their favorite art on the soul of their work. Image Makers are the ones who continue the conversation and add to the vocabulary.
The image taker may simply not be moved by the power of visuals, perhaps merely content to record rather than create. Or they’re just being pragmatic — interested only in snapping a quick pic to upload with the latest blog post. Either way, the work is passable, and our satisfaction with mediocrity blurs the line between expertise and amateur, creator and recorder.
“Seeing is not enough; you have to feel what you photograph.” – Andre Kertesz
A PARTING THOUGHT or PARTING SHOT.
Though it shouldn’t, this makes it hard for an art director or photo buyer to hire an image maker for a client project. The hired photographer brings spontaneity to the frame on demand — we tell other people’s visual stories with thoughtful inclusion of details and historical references. The image maker and the image taker might look the same at first glance — but recognizing the difference and sourcing quality for your project will set you apart from the crowd.