Who Is A Photographer Anyway?
Narrow definitions of what it means to work in a creative field are increasingly unhelpful in the world we live in now.
This morning I was reading a fascinating review essay by Jörg M. Colberg of Mark Durden’s new book, Photography Today. In the essay, Colberg made some pretty bold claims, starting with,
“We’re all photographers now. Or are we? Certainly, it has its uses to paint with a brush wide enough to turn everybody who takes photographers under whatever circumstances into a photographer. It makes writing nicely populist, feel-good pieces easy, pieces that crop up on the internet like weeds.”
At the risk of sowing more “weeds,” I had issue with pretty much everything Colberg had to say. I certainly do agree that limiting one’s artistic education to just what’s available online (and maybe by extension, just what is available for free online) is dangerous. But, everything else in this essay felt unhelpful to me, as a photographer and as a creative soul.
Colberg writes, “Let’s assume that we are not all photographers.” Why? This is a huge rhetorical assumption. Especially if our goal is, as Colberg claims, to have a non-ideological conversation. And, starting a definition with a person’s “ambition,” with their aspirations, feels to me to be a very culturally-laden, dare I say it, very consumerist way of looking at art and creativity.
Who Is A Photographer
I believe a photographer is someone who creates photos. That’s it; nothing more. Anything else we add to the definition, any restrictions we load into the word will always say more about us than they say about the field of photography.
Besides, we have an ample array of adjectives – professional, hobbyist, fashion, sports, fine-art, mobile – with which to define photographers if we feel the need to do so. Though, again, our very need to narrow the definitions, restrict the debate and exclude people from the fold may well say far more about our motivations than they say about that photographers and photographs we want to discuss.
Definitions Matter Less Than Ever
Part of me feels like this whole debate belongs to a different era. Most of the people I know who do creative work don’t fit a straightforward singular career description and don’t really care to try and do so. We are, after all, the slash generation.
One of my favourite examples in this is Bryan Adams, whom many people know as a Rock singer/songwriter, famous for hits like ‘Summer of ’69 and ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.’ But many don’t know Adams is also a highly successful, award-winning fashion photographer, perhaps best know for his campaign work with Guess Jeans.
Sometimes we hear people like Adams described a “renaissance types” because their ability to succeed in multiple fields reminds us of a simpler, pre-industrial age. But, what if our recent history is actually the exception, rather that the rule? What if the apex of the modern age into which we were born was really the aberration, forcing people to specialise to an alarming degree?
Well, if so, wouldn’t we need to make our definitions a little more open and flexible? Wouldn’t we worry less about who is “in” and how is “out” and focus more on what the art has to say to us?