Come gather ‘round people, wherever you roam
Bob Dylan may have released this legendary anthem in 1963, but in the world of professional photography this sentiment has never been more appropriate.
No, I am not referring to digital replacing analogue photography. That battle has been fought, and almost all of us have moved on to the digital process of creating photographs. In this war, everyone was a winner.
I’ve already observed, commented here and reflected on the manner in which professional photography is performed. The days of a photographic studio in the Main Street of every town and large suburb have gone; to be replaced by photographers working out of homes, or perhaps their car, at the beck and call of clients via their ubiquitous mobile phones. For many, gone forever are the studio, the receptionist and the sales area. No comfy sofas, no coffee machine…
This change of process and facility will also be driven by a revolution in the dynamics of the profession. As an example, we are now seeing a dramatic re-balancing of the gender mix amongst photographic practitioners. What has been a distinctly male domain for the first three quarters of photographic history has now moved positively towards a real gender equity in the profession, a long overdue and welcome development.
New entrants with new vision, and new ideas, influence established categories such as child portraiture, and create entirely new ones, such as the upsurge of new born or ‘birth photography’ businesses. This segment has been pioneered by a mainly female group of practitioners and has been firmly evidenced by the dramatic increase of women in the membership ranks of our professional institutes. Many of these people possessing academic skills other than photography, looking for job satisfaction that can be combined with raising a family and woven into a lifestyle choice. Admirable and desirable traits, ones we can all learn from.
The challenge for both the photography industry and our professional bodies is how to maintain craft skills as opposed to simple recording skills. Many of these new entrants to the industry are formally educated – but not necessarily in photography. Clear progress that goes a long way to lift broad education standards in an industry that sometimes lacked them in many areas.
The methods and techniques used by our institutes to interact with their membership is now, more than ever, of vital importance if these bodies are to establish, and maintain control of, professional standards. And our creative industry simply has to differentiate itself from sophisticated amateur users with access to relatively inexpensive methods of recording images. Our professionalism must now align inseparably with our creativity to define exactly what we do, and precisely where we add tangible value.
It may well be said that the black magic skills of old time analogue photographers has been swept away by the digital tsunami, but if we fail to harness the opportunities that present themselves alongside the new faces in our membership, we will also be swept away.
The well founded desire of new entrant photographers to embrace a work/life balance while being an integral part of our industry is an opportunity that should not be lost by clinging to an outdated ideal based on a previous business model.
Changing business hours, changing business locations, changing and improving interaction with family members, changing methods of interacting with clients – these should all be connected to producing better, and more creative, photographs.
Maybe Dylan was ahead of the game!
This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p144, issue 44, June 2015.