Art Matters

Our industry is filled with too much moaning and groaning about how bad business is, how many competitors there are, and how hard it is to get customers to pay enough money to compensate us for our efforts and costs.

Do many of us have any right to complain about this wonderful and very satisfying field of art known as photography?  It is a fact that most of today’s professional photographers have not been trained as artists. Yet we began to think we were artists when people started buying our work. And many of us with decades in the business have enjoyed many years of a roaring economy, with enough money in our customers’ pockets to allow us to live a reasonable life from our photography.

But increasingly we find ourselves overwhelmed by the number of competitors, new photographic technologies, and how hard it is to make a living as a photographer. In this down economy many of us struggle—big-time. We may ask ourselves: Is there that much difference between what I shoot and sell and what other professional photographers do in my area? Or, scarier still: How different is my work from that of amateurs (often our customers) with their expensive cameras and image editing tools?

Like all techy industries today’s professional photography industry is built around the lure of the new—new cameras, new lighting systems, new image editing features and plug-ins. How many companies are out there hawking texture sets, edge effects, settings for image editing tools, and automated action effects? Do you support these businesses, thinking that you too can create better photographs and once again earn a living doing what you love to do—take pictures?

We often hear instructors (not always artists) at workshops and conferences say things like, “Study the light,” “Think outside the box,” “Shoot with passion,” “Capture your subject’s soul,” or “Shoot RAW,” or “Use the rule of thirds,” or “Break the rules.” When was the last time you heard an instructor talk like an artist, or teach you how to create photographic art without excessive exposition about the technology, the tools, and the rules?

So many images on photo-sharing sites and on many professional photographers’ sites are heavily saturated, rich in detail (often processed with HDR or enhanced with tone control plug-ins), layered with textures, and heavily edited—as if to shout out, “Photoshop was here!” And the black-and-white images:  they often look like they’ve been subjected to one of the many black-and-white conversion plug-ins that with one click globally turn color to black and white.

Will these photographs not date themselves almost as fast as bell bottoms did? How often do you see photographs that were first and foremost art, and not imbued with technology and trendy image editing techniques? Do you see many images that make you think, “Wow!”—and then you realize how timeless or classic they are?

I strongly believe that even in today’s economy there are plenty of people who will buy photographic art when it really moves them, as true Art does. We know many photographic artists who are exceptional at creating portrait art and at marketing their business—and they still make a good living today, albeit less than they did a few years back. Our bet is that in the long term, the challenging economy and the difficult-to-master technologies will weed out many who hang their signs and call themselves photographers—leaving mostly those who create and sell photographic art.

We work in an Art market. If you are not an artist—can you complain?