The more things change…
Writing about the fading opportunities for professional photographers, John Szarkowski famously said this:
“Portraits, wedding pictures, scenic views, product photographs, PR photos, architectural views, insurance-claim documents, and a score of similar vernacular functions that were once thought to require the special skills of a professional photographer are now increasingly being performed by naive amateurs with sophisticated cameras. Although for the most part these pictures are approximate and graceless, they answer adequately the simple problem of identifying a given face, setting, product, building, accident, or ritual handshake.”
Sound familiar? Like maybe another sad acknowledgement of the death of photography as a career choice, laid once again at the feet of every untrained idiot with better equipment than yours? Like maybe one more reminder about how “good enough” has become good enough?
Here’s the thing, though. He said it in 1978.
Here’s what I say, and I don’t know how many more times I’ll have to say it. It’s always been hard to make a living as a photographer, especially in some of the specialties listed in the quote above. That’s where all the low-hanging fruit is, and where so many low hanging fruit pickers conduct their food fights.
But what makes it even harder is if you’re a professional photographer complaining about having to compete against today’s “naive amateurs” and you don’t know who John Szarkowski was. Or even who Andre Kertesz was (hint: he made the portrait of Szarkowski at the top of this post).
Because knowledge like that might lead you down the path toward the kind of inspiration that separates you from the "approximate and graceless" herd. Knowledge like that might actually help you learn how to “think different”, or maybe even just to think for yourself.
Get some context. Learn the history of your chosen medium. Worship some heroes other than the likes of Zack Arias and Bambi Cantrell- they already have enough worshippers, and they’d probably tell you exactly the same thing.
Read about something other than hot new apps or lens resolution tests. There is so much more to know. While enlightening information like this is easier than ever to find, it’s up to you to find it.
If you want to be different from everyone else, start by not being the same. Because the less you change, the more things stay the same.