I'd like to get back to Ctein's Thursday column, "Do 'Real' Photographers Print?" It's a good question. I could argue it both ways, based on real examples. Ctein concludes that it's up to each individual to decide for themselves, and that even though he's a master printer he's not prepared to say that that was the best course to pursue even for himself, much less for anyone else.
I think I'd go a lot further than Ctein did. I think any way you decide to enjoy your photography is okay. (With the usual caveat, "as long as it's not illegal or immoral.")
As an aside, I might point out that such arguments, pro or con, are usually framed in terms of status. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is whether photography is art. That's a status argument: the status is "art," and what's at issue is whether some photographers or photographs deserve the status. Even Ctein frames his article that way, right there in the title: the status is "real photographer," and what's at issue is whether you do or don't have to print your own photographs to deserve that status.
A nearly universal platitude on the internet is some version of "it's really all about taking pictures." I can't even go that far. Let's look at a few individuals I know, or know of:
• An equipment collector who has an extensive collection of cameras and is an expert on several famous marques.
• An individual who collects photographs, invests in photographs, an advises galleries on potential purchases, exhibits, and investments.
• A scholar who is a world-renowned expert on an early technique and has authored books about it.
• A leading critic who has written about photography for several decades.
• An individual who organizes his personal recreation around attending gallery shows. He's seen hundreds of shows and will drive hundreds of miles to see a choice one.
• A museum curator specializing in photography.
• A gallery owner who founded a major institution.
And guess what? None of those people take pictures themselves, despite the fact that all of them are passionately engaged with the medium.
This and that
Don't get me wrong—I'm all in favor of people taking strong stances. It's almost required if you want to accomplish anything. You've probably noticed that I'm not shy about advocating for my own beliefs, or suggesting to people ways they might expand and enrich their own practices. I believe in the value of learning and progressing and of keeping an open mind. But where photography and photographic pursuits are concerned, I could find an example of an individual who "does this, doesn't do that" for pretty much any value of this or that. At the very least, I'd bet they're out there.
Getting back to that notion of status—if there's one thing I've observed over several decades of serving photo enthusiasts of all sorts, it's that people tend to be overly concerned about status of various kinds. This is a normal human impulse (actually it's a normal primate impulse; chimps are very status-oriented too). You'll have to forgive me if I get this wrong, because I'm a bit blind to that—I'm just not very status-conscious myself (I'm more in the mold of an "eccentric"). But my observation is that people worry too much about what they think they "really should" be doing in order to fulfill whatever ideas and expectations they have about what a photography enthusiast is or does—or what they conceive other peoples' ideas and expectations to be. People are often apologetic that they do this or that or the other thing even though it's not the usual thing. They should relax about that.
I say, go ahead and define your own course. Do your own thing. Go your own way. Adopt your own principles. Decide what really motivates and moves you about any aspect of the medium, and go for it. Don't feel embarrassed about enjoying your connection to the medium on your own terms, whatever that may be, regardless of what other people think you should or should not be doing.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.