It’s been fun, photography. But I’ve moved on – I liked being with you and I’ll cherish what I learned. But I can’t be a joke anymore. Today I’m moving on with my head held high – Because, you see, words have meaning.
By definition, being an artist requires exhibiting skill and meeting some degree of standards. By definition, a photographer is usually one who practices photography as a profession. Practices, meaning by definition possesses knowledge of and skill in a given field. Is able to craft with. But the trouble is that’s ONLY by definition. The definitions have not officially changed. But practical use of the words has.
We live in a world that often abuses words. Eventually a word may become something different. Not by choice, but by fact. That’s what’s happened to photographers. Truth is, photography is barely recognized as a serious career anymore. It is simply owning a piece of equipment or saying a word. Perhaps the word was a mistake to start with, but we’ll get to that later.
Read carefully - This is not a depressing story. It’s a story about moving forward – I have big plans for my work – I am not a photographer. And it feels AMAZING!
Recently I saw a veteran photographer who has likely done more jobs and taught more professionals than any of us will ever see. He gave notice that he was walking out –”So glad to be exiting what used to be a profession” — He said. It was a bit sad, but today I walk away in perhaps a different way. I’m not going to stop making images. But I’m going to stop being a photographer. I’m going to build a business not of selling photographs, but of custom furniture. This is not a new idea for me, but I’m taking it further.
I was fifteen in the early 2000′s – Y2k had passed with relative ease and digital cameras were just starting to get noticed. I would walk into the
local drugstore and run the machine myself, cranking out 4×6 prints. I learned by trial and error (mostly error) and had no help from the internet. This was before everyone who owned a camera fancied themselves an expert. People were still taking snapshots. They just knew the difference. It took nearly a decade before I really started knowing what I was doing. I dumped film, became a digital kid and then came back to work with film and digital side by side.
See when I said I was working to be a photographer I was granted a certain respect. An expectation of study and skill was not considered optional. Even using a 35mm camera to photograph a portrait showed you were really an amateur. But when you said the word photographer, half the people in the room did NOT raise their hands.
Then a time came when an entire industry downgraded to 35mm digital that was actually worse than 35mm film. Only a few years before those same photographers would look down at anyone who used 35mm film because it was not good enough. You were expected to use medium format or larger for most work. The likes of which today’s SLR’s have still not rivaled for quality.
I know few anymore who are making a good living from photography. There are some, but it’s those who understand business and have a good approach – So YES, you can make it. But It’s almost embarrassing to speak the “P” word now. Saying you’re a photographer garners no respect – It’s akin to saying I have hair, I drive a car, or, I take showers.
Arelated a video we recently produced on the idea of wall furnishings.
Perhaps the industry caved? Professionals and organizations did not demand high enough standards or properly educate customers. Camera makers went for the numbers and big sales, telling everyone they could be a pro and make money money money. It was a business after all and perhaps we can’t blame anyone. We all had mouths to feed and what had stemmed from 150 years of rich photographic history changed in a blink. We barley had time to realize what was happening. New photographers were also part of it – At some point they LUSTED so much for respect that they DEMANDED to be called photographers right NOW, even though they had no training or real experience “who are you to say I’m not a photographer” they cried.
They got their wish – Everyone finally started calling everyone else a photographer because they had a camera in hand. The problem was that while that sounded nice, it applied to everyone else with camera too. EVERYONE became a photographer overnight, but almost no one actually studied the light, presentation or art that had been the staple for hundreds of years. They simply demanded in a rather socialist narrative that they be part of the group. When everyone was an artist, no one was. The respect was gone.
Consumers no longer needed us – Today most people no longer know what a quality photograph is. They now pay people to make photos in which dad looks abusive, mom looks fat, the kids like Oompa Loompas and the dog looks mangy. People are literally selling photos that are worse than snapshots and consumers don’t know the difference. But they are realizing that they don’t need to pay for them because anyone can do it.
In 2012 I produced a film called EXposed. It did something few were doing – It looked at the craft and science of image making. It studied Zones and light and ratios and exposure. Simple but little used things. It said that if you want to make serious images, you must get serious about your foundations. As of today that film has generated about a great deal of sales around the globe and just won a HOT ONE Award from Professional Photographers of America. Foundations have been ignored for so long that image makers of every level are realizing they need to take a step back.
Perhaps there’s hope. It seems many people want to understand craft. But how to make great images (rather than how to fix them) is so little spoken of today that people have literally forgotten the basics. Perhaps in time that desire will make the word photographer having meaning once again. But for now…
I Am No Longer A Photographer!
It’s not that I no longer using photography. A Chef still cooks and a sculptor still chisels. I will continue to learn and teach photographics, but that does not define my trade. This is business. I must grow and Raise The Bar. A smart businessman does not describe his trade with a word that has no value to his customers – The word “photographer” once had meaning, but it has been twisted beyond recognition.
Today I stop claiming it. I am no longer a photographer by modern definition. Which is the only one people recognize anymore. I’m going for more than being a photographer. Over the years I have become an art decor maker and I will sell myself as such. A sofa is more valued than a family portrait today. But the fine furniture I make will become the centerpiece of your room – I recently displayed my wall portraits at a large county fair. People were blown away. They simple are not used to seeing images used as wall decor and they liked what they saw. I received more interest and respect than I’ve seen in years.
There is another aspect here: It’s what thinking of ourselves as camera operators does to our perception and thus the result of our work. It’s not just a word. Master portraitist Ken Whitmire taught me the value of this premise and of the wall portrait itself. We should not be photographers. Not only because the word has come to little meaning today, but also because by it’s very meaning it lacks merit.
Ken teaches what may be one of our biggest mistakes. That was allowing the public to regard us as photographers in the first place – It’s a bit like to referring to Hemingway as a typist or calling a Surgeon a Cutter. We allowed our profession to be named after our tools and in so doing we degraded the value of the work we produce. Not only in our own minds, but the minds of others.
If you are professional trained to plan and prepare meals at a fine restaurant you call yourself a Chef. But it’s true that you still are a cook. Hemingway might, by strict definition, be a typist, not an author. And yet descriptive words have meaning. I’ll wager most chefs would not call themselves cooks. In fact they might not enjoy being offered that title. It’s only words, but they do have meaning in our work. If we don’t respect it, neither will others.
I make fine wall decor. Custom furnishings. Do I use photographics to achieve this? Yes, but that’s only a part of what’s involved – In fact far less of my time is spent “taking photos” than on the other elements involved in my process of planning and execution.
I will continue the business of being a Portraitist, a Pictorialist and Filmaker. Of sharing ideas in hopes that I can help Raise The Bar. Yes, there’s much more to business than what you call yourself. But I believe that in time the consumer may realize that hiring a “photographer” means nothing in itself. They will realize that people without experience are duping them and many will seek out those who can do more.
Words have meaning. They should be respected. But let me be CLEAR. I’m not talking about simply changing your verbiage. I’m talking about fundamentally changing your own PERCEPTION and PRODUCT – If your mindset does not change, neither has your business. It’s taken me years to fully accept and apply this fundamental change in my work. But I’ve finally let photography go. I have not only left the word behind. I have truly changed what I produce. I make fine furniture for walls.
As I stop being a photographer I call to those who value craft, light and presentation, those who are willing to learn their trade before claiming to be a master. I invite them to join me in being makers of fine art decor for people’s walls. I invite others that have little experience to LEARN this trade of Wall Portraits (see article) and aspire to become a part of it. I invite consumers to come back to a time when life was simpler and the things you put on your wall were not pics, snaps or paper trash. They were treasured heirlooms.
What’s next? I have to keep refining my presentation, my brand and my approach. I have work to do, but I have to a plan. If you want to follow along check out my newsletter or subscribe below.
As of today. I am no longer a photographer – I’ll look for you on the other side. Gavin Seim
Raise the Bar – Check out the Trailer for Gavin’s new Miniseries, PHOTOGRAPHICS.