If you ask a lot of professional photographers about their job they seem to have a love/hate relationship. They will often tell young photography students that photojournalism is dead, the profession as a photographer will not exist in a few years time because stills will be extracted from videos and you'll not be able to make a living as a professional photographer because everyone who has a digital camera these days thinks they're a gifted photographer.
The same kind of thing has been said to creatives in all media for centuries. When photography first appeared on the scene, many said that painting was dead. But painters reinvented their art with surrealism, cubism and abstract painting, and now for many years there's even been a movement of artists who paint in a style of realism that mimics photography.
The perception that excellent photography is important has been eroded from publishing, with ever lower professional fees, access to cheap images through micro-stock and the market being swamped by competent amateurs aided by the technological marvel of the modern digital camera.
Professional photographers can no longer differentiate themselves as easily by having professional equipment and craft knowledge. It has become far easier to take and develop an image that is technically of a high enough quality to be used in a publication (whether it will really communicate with the audience is another question).
I think photographers themselves have undermined and undersold what it is to be photographer. As I wrote in my previous blog, most photographers are not marketing themselves very well. They cling to the old formula, defining themselves by their equipment and craft knowledge rather than by their ability to communicate and touch people's emotions.
We all know the impact that great photographs have on our lives. How they keep treasured memories alive, how they influence politics and public opinion in a very direct way. And in the commercial world how a good series of advertising images can make or break a campaign and will directly affect the balance sheet and the brand.
Images and words are the two most direct and persuasive ways of communicating. A single news image can have huge impact on public perception. Long after all the rhetoric has died down the image remains, etched in the mind's of the audience. By the way one of the strengths of a great story teller is to create an image in the reader's mind so they feel they have seen and witnessed something. The photographer's approach takes a far more direct route to achieving the same result.
Photographers are visual communicators, story tellers, with the ability to connect directly to an audience's emotions. They by-pass the mental filters that get in the way of written and verbal communication.
We need to be telling people this. As photographers we need to play to our strengths and develop strategies to increase our value in the eyes of our customers. Not whimper about how unfair the market is, lower our prices, bemoan the competition and discourage young photographers.
There's a world of opportunity out there for those photographers who find new ways to communicate, to influence, to stand out from the crowd. Go find your niche. Go reinvent yourself. Think about new ways to get your work in front of people. Make art.
Magda Indigo is a photographer who has done this. There are billions of images of flowers. It must be one of the most popular subjects in the world. Yet her images stand out. Agencies, stock libraries and publishers seek her work out, recognising that she creates something special. Proof that it can be done. You can still stand out from the crowd.