Week 4 - Rethinking Photographers

This week we are being asked to look at the changing roles of photographers, the public perception of photographers, and how these are formed.

This week’s presentation discussed how photographers are depicted within media in varying ways; from social reformers, to voyeurs, to the principled war photographers. The roles portrayed offer different insights into the types of professional photographers, or the types of work professional photographers can engage in, and perhaps therefore influence the way non-photographers see professional photographers.

In my experience, I think non-photographers actually have quite a limited view of the work, or types of work, of professional photographers. This week’s forum post asked the question “what you think non-photographers make of professional photographers - what are the conceptions and misconceptions?”

Below is my post in response to the question. I have copied it here as it is something I want to remember and save for my own future reference:

When I first told my friends & family I was doing this MA degree the majority of responses were along the lines of "oh you could be a wedding photographer!" My friends & family are all non-photographers and I found it interesting that that was the response pretty much across the board. I've been thinking about it a lot since then and I think that the reason they thought that, is because wedding photographers are most likely the only contact they would have had to a professional photographer, and I think that is their primary view of photography as a profession.

From subsequent conversations with some of them I don't think that other ways of being a professional photographer really crossed their minds, and a general misconception is that there aren't many non-wedding professional photographers.

In all honesty, I hadn't heard of many of the photographers I've come across since starting this MA, or seen much - if any - of their work before, so I have been wondering whether a lot of professional photography isn't as mainstream as it might seem to photographers. Because of that I think some non-photographers see professional photographers as artists in the same way that someone who isn’t “in to art” is unlikely to know of an artist’s paintings. Another fairly common response I have received when telling people about the MA is "oh are you quite arty then?"

From my experience a lot of people have both the conception and misconception that photography is just for weddings and fine art photography. My friends and family don’t immediately think of other types of photography, (for example documentary photography, sports photography, or the potential use of photography for social change) as a profession.

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The mainstream representation of photography to me has always seemed as though it is the technological brilliance of equipment that is desirable, and not what it could be used for. For example, number of pixels or fast a camera is to turn on. Now with the technological advancements of recent years, camera phones are of such high quality that I would argue the general populous do not feel the need to have a “proper” camera as well as their smart phone. I have had more than one conversation with friends about this, and how they would just use their phone if they wanted to photograph something. I feel this view about photography equipment perhaps lessens the value of “real” photography. If the equipment needed to take a photo is so easy to get hold of and all one needs to do is “point and shoot” – what other expertise is needed? By extension I wonder whether the role of the photographer as a professional is seen as highly regarded today as it once was.

I feel that without technological advancements in photography I would not be practicing photography today. Without the globalisation of the medium in part throughout developments in technology and accessibility of equipment, it would not be so wide-spread today or practised by so many people.

However, these more recent developments in technology/the rise of smart phone cameras have bought about the “citizen journalist” and the arguments that anyone with a camera (of any kind) is a photographer; arguments put forward in one of this week’s readings; the chapter “Blurring Boundaries”[1]. Along with the accessibility of equipment there has also been developments in software and, in particular, photo editing software. Something that is now not only available to professional photographers/editors, but is as easily available as apps on smart phones. I think this not only blurs the lines of what a photographer is but also what a photograph is. It is now so easy to digitally change an image in post-production and so many do it daily via image sharing social media sites/apps such as Instagram, that many non-professionals accept editing/edited images, and assume that most pictures are edited. I am also guilty of this as I assume that most images I see are photoshopped. This does make me resistant to wanting to photoshop my own images. I wonder if there is so much post editing these days that it would actually be quite different to not photoshop my work.

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The series “A Grunt’s Life” by Damon Winters was taken on his camera phone using the Hipstamatic app. We explored the questions this raises in a second forum post this week, below is a summary of the points I made in my post (copied here for my future reference):
• I feel Winter’s use of a camera phone for “A Grunt’s Life” seems to belittle the seriousness of the fact the images are from a war zone. People use camera phones to take pictures of their friends on a night out or to take snaps of things they find funny. To apply the same process to war photography seems almost disrespectful.
• I also feel that it humanises those on the front line. Rather than just being soldiers, those men were also just men, whose peers may well have been, at that exact time, sitting in a bar taking photos of each other on their phones. Winter’s use of camera phone provides a commentary, I think, on the fact that this technology has evolved but at the same time nations/countries have not evolved and are still fighting each other, and it is people paying for that. For me this raises questions on the state of the world today.
• I wonder whether his use of a camera phone raises questions as to the purpose of professional photographers. There are some views that photography is something anyone can do – especially as the pervasiveness of camera phones allows so many to take photos. I feel that this use of camera phone may do more to perpetuate that view of photography than challenge it.
• Winter’s use of the Hipstamatic app and its vintage-like effects on images taps into the desire for all things analogue that has emerged over the last few years. The aged look it gives makes you feel as though you are looking nostalgically into the past not looking at something from the present. I sometimes wonder if this desire for analogue is related to the reported levels of dis-satisfaction about the present amongst many people, in particular young people, and this makes them instead want to look to the past. Looking at old photos may generate fond memories of situations, even if these memories are somewhat distorted and events are remembered in accurately. I feel that the use of Hipstamatic in Winter’s images, distances them from the present by making them look as though they are from the past – and I wonder whether this could distance the viewer from the subject of the image and make it less relatable to the situation in the world today.

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I watched an advert for the new iphone 7 recently in which they extol the virtues of the new phone camera. It talks about, amongst other things, the camera sensors, the shallow depth of field available, the telephoto lens function enabling greater zoom, and the stability function enabling greater exposure time in low light. It talks about photographic technological qualities as if it were a “proper” camera, and not a phone camera. These capabilities do sound impressive and exciting in terms of technological development, and providing this technology in such a non-photography specific way may enable a greater number of people to become aware of these aspects of photography. Which may facilitate greater and more widespread discussions about photography, it may start more people looking at photography in greater depth and perhaps even appreciation. However, it may also encourage the view that anyone can be a photographer, you don’t need a camera or training or experience, or talent, if you have an iphone. After this week I find myself in two minds about this. On one hand, I feel that more discussion and interest in photography as a medium would be beneficial to strengthen the industry and the view of photographers. However, on the other hand, if the “anyone can be a photographer” view becomes more and more commonplace then where does that leave the professional photographer? If the technology becomes (or is already?) so advanced that anyone can take technically good images without the aforementioned training/experience etc. and photography is seen as something anyone can do, and newspapers/sites are using “citizen journalists” rather than paying for professional work, would this actually lessen the discussions about “good” photography? Would photography be looked as less critically and therefore would the value of photography, and the roles of professional photographers, diminish?

[1] STUART, Allen. 2013. The photographic image in digital culture. London: Routledge 2013

Discarded camera film found in local woodlands

Discarded camera film found in local woodlands