As Of Today – I Am No Longer A Photographer.

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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

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Gavin’s Wall Portrait booth at a recent fair. Click for a closer look.

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.

What Happened?

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!

gavin seim wall decor 447x600 As Of Today   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.

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  • Sara

    Interesting article… I don’t agree with everything, but the thing that stands out most to me is the idea to shift marketing and perception of my business away from the word “photographer.” I love that idea – and actually, I had already thought similarly, but not in terms of my portrait/wedding business, but in art photography. Mostly as a hobby because it doesn’t make much money, I sell art at art festivals created from photography. Once people get the idea that they are photos – all of a sudden they become less interesting and people start claiming they’ve “taken photos just like it” (with potential limited exceptions, I’m sure that is not true). I’ve been trying to come up with the way that I want to present my art that does NOT involve the word photography. The same exact image will instantly become more interesting and valuable.

    That’s my personal example, and I’m absolutely AMAZED by how many of the people commenting here seemed to miss the main point of the article. It’s not petty jealousy to point out the fact that photography as a profession has zero respect right now. It’s a cold hard fact that the industry of photography has lost respect because of people who have virtually no idea how to use their “nice” camera labeling themselves as pro photographers. So many people have done that now that saying you’re a photographer doesn’t imply what it is used to – that you had specific knowledge and technical skills that only a learned professional would have. Now it just implies that you own a (relatively inexpensive) “nice” camera.

    I hate having to tell people I’m a photographer. Those who read this article from a negative perspective – while I don’t agree that changing over to calling yourself a furniture maker is the way to go – if you have ever called yourself a photographer and watched people’s responses, you can see that the point here is VERY much true. What is there to disagree with? The word “photographer” has become virtually meaningless. That happened because too many people began calling themselves photographers without having the knowledge and skill to do so. Those are facts which cannot be disputed….

    • Julie

      Digital art?

  • Sara

    Additionally, some of the responses saying photography is analogous to other industries are laughable.

    So Home Depot selling tools for DIY renovations and construction is a fair comparison? Really?

    Here’s what that would mean:
    I go into Home Depot and buy one tool, an inexpensive tool compared to the others out there I could have purchased – and only one, instead of several different ones that I might need for various construction situations. I take it home and immediately start building things with it. I slap them together without any understanding as to the elements of construction and whether I’m doing a quality job…. which of course I’m not, as I did not bother to learn more than the barest minimum about how to use the tool I bought. I don’t even recognize the fact that I don’t even own half the tools that I actually need.

    After a very short time, I decide that I’m going to make some money by selling the low quality things I’m making. I get my own website and post my creations, make up some prices, and then start advertising myself as a professional contractor. People that actually know something about construction can see that the things I’ve built are terrible, but the general public doesn’t really know any better, and my things are much cheaper than they’ve found elsewhere, so they buy them.

    What they’ve purchased ends up being awful…. and then here’s the kicker. Instead of concluding that they made a mistake by hiring a contractor that didn’t know what they were doing and shouldn’t be in business, they conclude that construction as a profession is a joke, and isn’t worth paying ANYONE to do.

    That’s what’s happened to the photography industry. Anyone can see that the example I’ve given in the construction business would never happen, but can they see that it is literally an EXACT parallel to professional photography today?

    • Gavin Seim

      Good thoughts Sara, thanks.

    • Julie

      Or they think that the construction is ok and everyone builds like that so why pay more? Things are so disposable these days that no one wants anything that lasts forever

  • Jeffrey McPheeters

    Gavin, I enjoyed the article. I’ve been following your progress mostly as it relates to your entrepreneurship. I’ve been enjoying my personal love of acquiring images with a camera (as opposed to a brush as my mother does) for almost as long as I can remember. As a science teacher by education, a retired professional home builder, and home schooling dad for the past 18 years, I pretty much am at home as a life long learner. From my own, limited perspective, you have a great deal of passion that betrays your youth, yet your skill speaks for itself and demands no apology for your youthfulness. If you continue to grow and learn, even as you teach (all great teachers are the best learners, as they are truly passionate about their subject) I expect your future will continue to unfold in exciting, and sometimes, unexpected, directions. I’m undecided as to whether or not I think “custom wall furniture” adequately equates to what you are creating. Certainly the designation of “photographer” is too limiting, even by standards from the days of film. When I think of my sphere of activity involving a camera, I consider part of the time I’m a photographer in that I capture images with a camera; part of the time I’m a developer, in that I create images in the darkroom (physical with film, or virtual, with digital raw files), and part of the time, I’m an artist, adjusting and retouching to make what I envisioned into something for others to enjoy and appreciate. I truly enjoy all aspects of the process. In your situation, there are even more facets, as it’s a business and also a visionary force at work in a dynamic industry. And evidently you are enthusiastic in all aspects of your work. I certainly have benefited from your efforts, and I appreciate your technical expertise as an owner of many of your Lightroom and Aperture presets.

    Much of my activities in photo graphics is relatable, in my mind, from my previous career in home building. The importance of getting the foundation right relates to the skill of capturing the image in the camera. The importance of framing the structure and enclosing it relates to the developing of the image. And the attention to detail in finish work relates to the retouching and final presentation.

    Every morning and evening, and throughout much of the day, I look out on the world to see what kind of “canvas” the Lord has decided to arrange for me to observe and perhaps to use as the foundation to create something to enjoy, share, and ultimately, to reflect His glory. I take a serious look at that “canvas”, knowing He has created me in His image in certain respects, which means I am endowed with a desire to create something to which I am happy to affix my name. As you prepare to embark upon another physical journey in that “truck”, even as you are embarking upon the exciting adventure in creating your life’s work, I’m reminded of the 121st Psalm which was one of the first ones our three sons learned by heart, which ends with “the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (I’m sure you appreciate that your greatest work involves the little ones you are blessed to parent with your talented wife!) May it be so, always.

    • Gavin Seim

      Thank you Jeffery. And bravo to you on home schooling. Family and God come first. In our case home school not only keeps our children where they belong but it makes it much easier for us to do the work we do on the road and enjoy that grand canvas.

      Agreed on the home building. Imagine trying to build someones home with the same level of experience that today’s “photographers” have. I grew up in the building trade doing construction, installing carpet and the like. I’m no master home builder, but my dad is and I can install 80yds of carpet in a day and wrangle a french wrap staircase in short order. Still, I prefer to stick with what I’m best at :)

      Thanks for your thoughts, Gav

  • dbltapp

    Interesting argument, and very well written.

    (FWIW, I’m a photo-illustrator…)

    • Gavin Seim

      Thanks. And why not just an “illustrator” does the “photo” part help your brand? Just something to consider. Ken Whitmire called himself a Portraitist and Illustrator before I was even born. It’s still on his sigh and it really stuck with me. Why photo?

      • Sally Jane

        Because if I am understanding above poster, he uses a camera to illustrate. I am an illustrator, as I use either a pencil, brush, pen, marker or digital pen. I am well paid for what I do, but I draw each illustration and that is what makes me an illustrator. If you start calling photographer’s illustrators then you are doing the same to my profession as has been done to your own profession. An Illustrator is someone who draws. At least it is to me. I know that word gets applied to other things, but a true illustrator is an artist with a pen/digital pen.

        That said I studied photography back in the day before there were digital camera’s. As a matter of fact we were in a darkroom with chemicals and black and white film. I learned a lot from that experience, and I personally do not see the current photograph the same art. The art is now done on a computer verses in the darkroom. To me it has lost a lot of its romanticism.

  • Smuggy Smith

    I hope you feel better now. Being a photographer isn’t defined by owning a camera. If I lost all my cameras and equipment, I’d still be a photographer. I don’t need the adulation of the masses. I don’t need megapixels. I’ve actually won an award with a pinhole camera made out of a pumpkin (I was 12). As long as I can recognize a good photograph, I’m in business.

    By the way, respect doesn’t come with a title. It comes with a body of work. I’m still working on mine.

  • Jodie Otte

    <3 I completely understand. After spending 15 years involved in the industry, but 10 years full time, I'm back in college and eventually I'm going to walk away from the art field completely – never enough appreciation and when people are bidding on $50 clients, it just makes me ill. "But those aren't your target clients!" Right, yeah, but do you realize that your target client has moved downward? Yes, and they will keep moving downward. So tired of the joke.

    • Carrie Prewitt

      I have followed your beautiful work for years. In the sea of photography which surrounds us, your work is some of the most memorable I have ever seen. But I understand, as I just posted above. I’m also out of the game. Best of luck in whatever you pursue now!

  • Carrie Prewitt

    I have also quit this industry, and agree with Jodie Otte (who I respect SO MUCH, by the way. I absolutely love her beautiful work). I have been a professional photographer for 8 years. I knew it was time to leave this profession when I was at a civil war event recently. There were some artists there demonstrating the wet plate collodion process, and it was really fascinating and beautiful to watch. As we watched in silence, my 6 year old daughter piped up, with obvious pride, “My Mommy is a photographer too!” Instead of feeling proud, I was embarrassed. Even though I am a well-respected, established, high-priced, and much-awarded photographer in this area, I was embarrassed because I knew those artists were looking at me with contempt, automatically lumping me in to the amateur Mom-tog category. Which is what I would have done in their shoes. Although I am not embarrassed by my body of work – I am very proud of that – I am embarrassed to call myself a photographer. I now still do some photography for people who value my work enough to pay what it is worth, but it is completely on the side now. I am pursuing other fields, and homeschooling my son. I am so happy to have my life back. I feel like all those years I spent playing the photography game were totally wasted. Except I do have nice pictures of my kids.

  • Kevin G Saunders

    Great article Gavin. Thank you for announcing that you no longer wish to be part of the “race to the bottom” as the others can win that race.

  • Packers Camp

    I starting taking photographs back in the early 70s and have moved along with camera development ever since. I’ve taken way more bad photos than good, but occasionally, light, subject matter and opportunity come together and from that springs a nice photo, something I’m proud of …and sometimes other people like it too.

    Hundreds of thousands of photos later, I’ve never once described myself as a photographer…that word in itself as as many different meanings as their are people who hear or use the word. I’m more of a “picture taker” because to me the word “photographer” involves elements of art…and taking pictures of the family dog, or my friends at the lake, kids in school isn’t in the same league as what came from Ansel Adams who may be on a short list of real “photographers”.

    I think that these days people think if you watermark a photo with “Joe Blow Photography” somehow that makes you a photographer? Hardly! True photography is so much more than buying a camera at Costco, putting Adobe Lightroom on your computer and picking up some business cards with “Joe Blow Photography” and selling photos not off the quality of the work, rather from an unsuspecting customers belief that long lenses and SLRs mean quality work.

    So even with all the latest equipment and two foot long white lenses, I don’t dare call myself a “photographer” because I’m not in the same league with all the great masters of art. I’m just a picture taker, capturing images that make me happy, that remind me of places I’ve been, or a time when my children were little and I measure my success by the smiles it puts on others faces. You can do that with a pinhole camera or $10,000 worth of equipment and never having to bear the burden of being called a “photographer”.

    I with you Gavin, well, I’ve been here for a long time waiting for photographers to see the “light” and come on over to the dark side. :) When you throw off the chains of “photographer” and no longer held hostage to all that that involves, you can begin to take photographs for yourself that have depth, meaning and true artistic value.

    Take photos for your own pleasure and let all the others fight over whether it’s art or not.

    In the end, many people wouldn’t know true art if they were slapped in the face with da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” :)

  • Elisabeth

    This is absolutely brilliant and it made my heart beat faster as I read it. Wonderful! Thank you so very much for writing this.

  • Kirk Russell

    How to compete with FREE, cheap, or amateurish? Make a product and service worth paying for. Not a better way of talking about what you do or a different word to describe your profession. Rebuild or reinvent a new reality where buying is better than the free alternative.

  • Kirk Russell

    I wonder if Shakespeare might have said, a rose my any other name is still a rose? And I also wonder how many people in nearly every profession or job would quit because not enough people appreciate the work they do, let alone ‘admire’ them for what they do? I started my first photography business in 1981 and then as today, if a business person couldn’t create something people would buy the business failed. And rightly so, after all- that’s business. When you create something that is perceived to be in great supply, the value decreases as does the price people will pay. This is all obvious to those with enough experience. Finally people buy brands, not in most cases because they can perceive the quality of one product or service over another. But this doesn’t mean you can just rename what you do because a brand is what product or service people associate your company with. Name what you do or the business you have and if the product or service remains unchanged and they’ll still see a ‘rose.’ Ask any successful business person what business they are in and they’ll tell you marketing and they just happen to be selling what produces the sales to stay in business.

    • Kirk Russell

      Oops! I meant, a rose by any other name is still a rose, not a rose my any…