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Thursday, 29 May 2014


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Hey Mike,

I read the whole thing... and I imagine most of your readers will too.

It truly is a great time to be making images, but it's a very difficult time to be making a living from making images. I have over 100 mounted photos of my photography up at my place of work. I do it for my enjoyment, as well as the enjoyment of others---and it's a fine way to get a conversation started. About 20% of the people who have come by to chat about the photos say "You're so good... you should be doing this professionally..."

They obviously don't know the market, or what the company pays me to do what I do! I do love photography. But I'm pretty sure that I would love it a lot less if I was trying to make a business out of it.

Thank you for this posting.

I love photography, I love the works I've made and I think I have slowly matured into a decent practitioner of our art. I'd love to find a way to make a living at it but I'd have had to do that back when I was graduating high school in 1982. Perhaps if I'd joined the army as photographer rather than a tanker?

Instead, I find myself 50 years old and working for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant. Alas, I am unable to ask "Would you like a print with that?" rather than "fries with that?"...

Add me to the list. Once upon a time it was possible to make a part-time income from photography. Today I can't cover my expenses.

Hmm. I think that as far as the "culture" goes, it's simply changing. Which is something that cultures do. I would argue that "professionals" don't define a culture, and that in fact they tend to be on the fringes of a culture.

For those who want to make money in photography, yeah, it's getting a lot harder. But then, back when dial telephones were introduced, we began losing our switchboard operators. When people can do something for themselves, at least acceptably well, it's a lot harder to convince them to shell out money to have someone else do it.

" (Who said "resistance is useless"?)"

That would be Vogons in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Cursory research would seem to indicate that this Vogon usage predates the Borg usage, " "resistance is futile.", starting in TNG and continuing on through various Star Trek incarnations.


It sounds like change?

Do you have a tag for "instant classics" on this (or the new) TOP? If so, apply it to this post.

The other day I agreed with you and I was surprised to read what I think in someone else'e blog, today I'm pleased to read a further explanation which adds some interesting details. Writing is essential in photography!

Ahhh Mike...tl/dr.

Just kidding! Really, excellent article. Very well considered and well presented, even if you did only write it in a few hours. I think you've nailed it on many points that are completely relevant, at least to some of us. Heck, I'm still cruising along, shooting 8x10 film and printing in the darkroom. I have no real hope - even if there was a time when I did - of getting my work out there and maybe even receiving a glimmer of recognition.

In the last several years I have settled myself upon the fact that if I am to continue making photographs the way I want to make them, it will have to be for my own personal satisfaction and probably nothing else. I was never really under the illusion that I'd be "discovered" someday and become some well known, high earning artiste. Still, I suppose there was always that little pocket of hope and possibility, tucked way in the back of my mind somewhere, that it just might happen if I work hard enough, or develop my vision to the necessary extent.

Fortunately, the potential for fame and fortune was never the driving force that kept me going. Constantly working against the pressure and the tide of the 'digital influence' is hard enough without constantly worrying that my work and way way of working are becoming more and more..outmoded as time goes by. As long as I can continue to accept the fact that my photography, as a creative outlet, will always be for my benefit alone, I think it'll remain a "good time for photography" where I'm concerned.

"Resistance is Futile" = The Borg. So much of what you said is absolutely accurate, but the not unlike what blogs have done to magazines, quality of "professional" work has been compromised. Amateurs claiming to be Pro Photographers have made it tough to compete at a level that makes real money. Consumer gear, no backups at any level, total lack of understanding of their respective equipment. The Spray and Pray method of capture... The stories I've heard from customers is just incredible. Maybe the pendulum will swing back again.

You may not want to print this based on the slam about to be leveled but then you have the combo of bad blog and bad photographic information: SLR Lounge. http://www.slrlounge.com Edit as you feel fit.

Photography, as a cultural thing, strikes me as being in massive flux. There is a fundamentally new form in play now: the weightless, disposable, ephemeral photography of instagram, facebook, flickr. You shoot, you share. It's frictionless. You can share 100 snaps more easily than I could print 1 thing, 15 years ago.

This new thing is essentially ephemeral, you share, and then you share something else, and your friends share, and the pictures from last week disappear down the timeline. They're three clicks away and might as well be gone.

This means that there is a certain triviality to these pictures. Not only is the process frictionless, encouraging us to share some really banal stuff, but the fact that there's so little cost involved makes us value the pictures less. There's no effort, no expense, in sharing.

I think we're seeing a schism. People are still doing photography with weight, photography that people feel has value, photography that is not ephemeral. Simply making people look at a print can imbue the work with this sort of weight (see: Sontag), but there may be digital paths to mass as well.

The schism is incomplete. The trivial, ephemeral, weightless pictures are all muddled up with the massy, timeless pictures which we feel as having "value" in some sense. The weightlessness rubs off on the weighty, and nobody's sure what to make of anything.

I've recently made a choice to stick to prints, basically because of this precise line of thought. I might shoot digital, but the end result is always a physical object. I cannot crack the code for "online, but not ephemeral, weightless, trivial". I rather hope someone else can, though.

Great thoughts Mike, and a good read as well (the internet is great for many things, but finding good, long form deep thinking isn’t always one of them). Would it be fair to say that the business of photography is at a crossroads, while the craft itself is as good as ever?Maybe that’s where the differentiation line lies, between those who rely on their photography, vs. those who simply derive enjoyment from it.

I suppose it can be simply chalked up to progress, to evolution. Species that evolution has selected against invariably don’t have the greatest of times, whole those evolution has selected thrive. There are and will remain niches where the old guard can flourish, but there needs to be, by necessity, a certain amount of dying-off that occurs before the population in those niches can stabilize and flourish.

Great essay - thanks! Your 'long' posts are what I come here for.

Schumpeterian creative Destruction.
If the measures we use to judge what is 'Good' are traditional ones, we will see less good in a changing situation.
A field as diverse and interdependent as Photography can never (as you point out) be summed up with a simple 'Thumbs Up' or Thumbs Down.
These are the most exciting times imaginable for photographic technology and speed of communication.
But for those earning a living in many traditional modes of doing 'Photographic Business' times are more likely to be difficult than prosperous.
Many people ARE earning more money, but they tend to be those who's work/style is favored by the many new realities of the digital revolution.
If economics is removed from the equation , times look great, but some do not have that option.
There are always casualties to sweeping change, some of them tragic, but as you say, 'Resistance is Futile' .
The best advice is to accept the change, and keep learning so you can convey the message of your choice in the Culture that exists.

Mike, very good essay and reflective of what I know from my acquaintance of two photographers who publish somewhat regularly in National Geographic. Also somewhat (sadly) reflective of my own experience doing part time editorial work...I'm in some ways part of the bad news for full time pros, though really I'm just doing what I like and happen to make a little money from it. Anyway, I think that last list would make a great ongoing series for TOP: profiles of people struggling in the field, either trying to break out or trying to keep ahead. I'd love to read those stories. I'd also like to see the work of the last person you mention, and maybe offer some positive comments. There's a lot of positive energy out there, it just doesn't get reflected in comment threads unfortunately.

Your PS is unnecessary, IMHO. It is a very thoughtful essay that is both consistent with what I know about the field, and also illuminates (gives me a way to think about) changes I see in other fields.

I am doing a project with 4x5". At $4 a sheet for Provia, I am so HAPPY that I have enough supporters to pay for film. Fortunately, I can do my own processing and scanning, otherwise, it would not be a feasible project.

I read the whole thing. Liked it quite a lot.

I most often do read your entire articles. (I am well over 25.)

It's "resistance is futile" (as others will likely have pointed out). First said by the Borg in Star Trek Next Generation, I believe.

May I summarize what your article says to me?

It says that it has become more difficult to explore and expand forms of excellence in photography, because the infrastructure -- economic, educational, social -- is falling away. In its place we find a more hostile environment, as evidenced by the relatively new ability of gratuitously injurious responses to flourish. And where we would have assumed that there needs to be a steady and widespread educational culture which prepares photographers in general, and the stars of tomorrow, that too has fallen away. These are reports from the grassroots.

OK. I'm with you. And I appreciate that your message is not simply that things are going to hell in a handbasket (whatever that was).

So next step: where are the growing points? Where are those eyes going to be schooled? Will it be on the analogy of street art, where passionate effort and intense awareness of each other drives toward ever greater sophistication, at least in some urban scenes?

I'm just asking.

I don't agree with the thrust of your argument. I do feel sorry for those whose wages from photography is lower/gone. I deeply regret the loss of photojournalism (this can change if someone somewhere decides to do so - if they think it will give them an edge and be valuable to their customers).
Originally photography was pure/new followed by hobbyists whose motivation was not money. This quickly changed -Atget mostly took vast quantities of photos for artists to buy/copy. Now his images of a bygone age are of great interest to us.
The sole criticism of photography is the sheer volume and how to filter the best out.
There are many more unknowns with skills similar to all the celebrated past masters. Unfortunately recognition comes from a narrow band of 'Art' wheeler dealers i.e. museum curators, gallery owners publishers and auction houses. They know it is best to have a small number of 'artists' and so are disinclined to expand the number. It is a game.
Ultimately photography like all arts will succeed from passion and obsession. Recognition will/will not come and if it does it will be late just like the megamillion painters who died broke.
Not fair. Yes.
Some things do not change. The money men ultimately win but the soul of the artist is always theirs and theirs alone.

If you expect nothing back from your art except the work you create you will be a happy artist.

Very good article.
And I now agree with you. It's a great time for me that wants to be a better photographer, but it's not a great time for people who makes a living from this discipline.

It is a "Great Time for Photography" it's just that in many respects it's a rotten time for photographers.

Sort of like how a great time for hamburgers is not necessarily a great time to be a cow.

Excellent essay, Mike.

I agree totally.

Warm regards, Rod

Thank you for writing about the pain. It is very real.

I've learned to ignore dismissive Internet comments about thousands of lost jobs and the demise of a profession; such comments usually reflect more the commenter's own naivete about others' source of meaning than anything else. (Hint: if photography has no more "meaning" for you than a hobby like collecting knives or bass fishing, you're not likely to understand this post.)

Here's a question to ponder: if you could poll everyone who used to make a living through photography and everyone who ever hoped (or hopes) to make a living through photography, do you think a majority would say that their prospects would be better in the film era or in the digital era?

Based on the heartfelt, even anguished, laments I hear from both aspiring and veteran photographers, I think a clear majority would say "Film era, for sure" (even as they acknowledge that digital is "better" in every other respect--small comfort, they might say).

That's a sobering number of people who are feeling the sadness you write about, a far far greater number than the typical hobbyist might imagine.

1. Maybe these people should be reading Seth's Blog

2. You can't sell what people don't want. I once knew an Art Gallery owner. He had a large collection of B&W Fetish/S&M photos that he said were mainly bought by WOMEN. The sales of "Shades o Gray" should help prove the point.

3. Time to move on.

4. If you want to be a creative, you can't be thin-skinned. The anomy of the 'net has unleashed a lot of jerks, sad but true.

5. David. Zack and Frank are the new teachers.

6. Check this out http://blog.melchersystem.com/2014/05/28/upside/

7. I don't believe in Art Photography -- so no comment.

8. Wrong business plan. Not many people are making high-profit album sales anymore. A lot of PPA photographers are living in the past.

9. Welcome to the Age of Digital, expect to get ripped-off frequently.

10. As I said before, lots of jerks on the 'net.

Feel free to edit/re-write.


Apropos of nothing, there's so much good photography out there. How I enjoy looking at pictures! Wish it were better for those hoping to make a living at it.

Having worked in manufacturing for several decades, I've often thought of the poor bastards that work at the camera manufacturers. Such wonderful products yet every day a drive for more, faster, cheaper, with their jobs always on the line. What does anyone think it is like working at Canon, Nikon? So nice to see the battle from off shore with the rockets red glare.

What is really being said (by the post and the comments)

1. It's a wonderful time to DO photography from a technical perspective.

2. It's *mostly* a wonderful time from an artistic perspective, though some circumstances have been closed to image making over time.

3. It's a worse than *many decades* time to try to make a living at it, or get either acclaim or money to support it.

I claim that #3 is actually kind of the norm - very few people ever made a good living at photography, very very few people ever bought very many photos at any price, and most of the photos ever made *before* the digital age were (a) family snapshots, (b) mundane technical and business photos (think used car listings), etc. The digital age made that more so.

That really hasn't changed on the grand scale. Rather, a small set of people who were doing OK have had their paths through life shut off. Painful. Kind of the story of the modern era - but not at all special to photography.

Culture shock!

From all the comments it seems like the short evaluation of the changes in photography could be summed up by;

Your perspective is determined by where you stand.

>This essay could be ten times better if...As it is, I had one morning to write it, and most of my readers won't read the whole thing because it's too long.

Doesn't have to be 10 times better, your message is clear, interesting, and well said (and I read all of it). Excellent writing and is why I come here every day. Thank you.

Change is hard. There is no doubt about it, but it is also hard to see where things are going. Berkshire Hathaway was a textile company in my home town when I was a boy. Mr. Buffet decided he didn't want to do that any more and locked the doors and moved on. Who could have predicted where that company is now. The mill workers were left in the lurch just like many professional photographers are now. There is a real human cost to change, but change is the way of the world, unstoppable.

The new business model is just starting to evolve. The ability of folks like yourself to make a living with a blog is probably an early indicator of the future. There is still going to be a demand for content in the future, and its providers will need to be paid. How that will happen seems to be undetermined at this point. I expect though that someone will develop a product that will fill that need, it will be really cool and spawn the usual flock of imitators. I just wish I could be the one to think of it first.
In the meantime I will continue to enjoy the many benefits of the digital age, like the beautifully exposed and composed photo my son just sent me of his two daughters, taken on his iPhone and text messaged to mine.

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift at least as big as the introduction of the box brownie by Eastman Kodak. Many good things sadly will be lost forever; but many wonderful new things will come to pass. As the title of Mr Dylan's great song says, "The Times They Are a-Changin'". What is not great about that?

I feel for those who have long established careers as photographers - the game has definitely changed, and incomes are being dramatically affected.

Those who assume they can just enter the industry now & establish themselves as photographers, expecting to make a good living need to take heed of the trends in the business. You would have to think twice. It's all very well to follow your dream, but reality can be brutal!

Those like me who have a full time job elsewhere, but have a passion for photography as 'wall art', and wouldn't mind selling a few prints from your local café, exhibition, or from an online presence, have probably already realised that the public are reluctant to make purchases of photographs for wall art. This probably has to do with economic conditions, but I'm sure it's also because people believe they can do just as well themselves. At the end of the day, you realise that you need to produce images for yourself, be your own harshest critic, and accept that some others may like a particular image, but many may not. It doesn't matter - art is not a competition.

Off topic: Regarding Resistance is Futile/Useless, etc

The earliest cite is 1965 with the Cybermen in Doctor Who (though I suspect it goes even earlier than that -- 1950s B movies anyone?). Even Cool Hand Luke had a similar phrase. Douglas Adams was already riffing on a well known SF trope.


"Resistance is Useless" was a favorite phrase of the Cybermen in their first two stories, "The Tenth Planet" and "The Moonbase."

On topic:

I almost posted the same comment as Richard Tugwell above. I read Photography: A Very Small Introduction recently and exactly the same quote popped into my mind: photography isn't a thing it's an abstraction (like writing) that stands for the uses of the thing. This makes generalizing about photography essentially impossible.

Most people doing some sort of photography without renumeration are "winning" because of the digital revolution. Those whose position relied on a superfical rarity in the analogue world are doing badly or are adapting. Those that relied on real rarity are still doing OK (or even really well).

The underlying "difference" is that like all digital systems the cost of taking a photo or making a copy of a photo or getting that photo to a person is zero. For all photos. That changes the economics of the whole system as we move from a resouce limited system to an attention limited system.

I don't think there is anything different here than happens when any major technolgy is introduced: there are winners and losers.

And like most technological changes it's people of a certain age that bear the brunt of the change. They have the most invested in the old ways and the least incentive to change.

I understand the anxiety but it seems a bit one sided.

Firstly, "a good time for photography" is not necessarily related to "a good time to make money from photography". If you are a consumer its good, a supplier...well let's say that new technology (and the state of the economy) is transformative and not everyone will adapt. But not everyone with a new iPad complains that they don't need technical support to get their email set up.

Nor am I sure it's even true that professionals as a whole are suffering, even if some areas have more challenges than others.
Art photography seems to be booming. Galleries are doing more photography exhibitions than ever, more awards are being sponsored than ever, prices are higher than ever (remember Gursky) and (apparently) more people are buying it than ever. Of course you have to be "in tune" with the current art trend, which is a whole other discussion. That world was always closed to most, in that respect it's no different to any form of art.

Moreover, I don't see many wedding photographers majoring on albums and prints. Most are editing and putting together slide shows and videos on DVD or even creating custom websites for clients. They will supply prints too, but giving customers access to high res JPEGs is no longer considered a problem. But yes it helps to be adept at Photoshop or Premiere, or outsource it.

And all kinds of photographers have found a whole new income from making educational guides or just blogging. Dave Hobby for instance is now paid to do speaking tours, and they are great. Same for Zack Arias. Then there are instruction books (Thom Hogan) and fields trips (Hogan, Peter Turnley, Charlie Waite). This income would be totally inaccessible had digital not created so many aspiring photographers.

Moreover those of us that need imagery for our blogs and small business sites can now access cheap stock photos and take our own. We are not taking money out of other people's pockets because we would never have been able to afford to commission a photographer or buy the rights to stock images (at former prices).

Yes, photojournalism has taken a hit, but more because of financial problems with newspapers than the technology. If you are prepared to wear a flak jacket, the jobs are out there.

As for magazine photographers, business in some fields in booming. Fashion photography and advertising in general, although video is becoming a second-string requirement.

We are mid-transformation IMO. Things will settle down, and the good business heads will mostly survive, or even thrive. When stability returns, it will be more obvious where the business opportunities are, but they won't necessarily be in the same places. Plus ca change.

Meanwhile trashy outfits like Getty give away images for free and next to nothing.
The Photographer (Getty:Content Providor) gets his fair cut of nothing.
The execs get paid. The researchers and staff get paid. They all make money from the photographers and treat them poorly.

We won't even get into the jerks who run newspapers these days and believe you can give anyone a camera and come up with high quality images.

Photography: A rich man's hobby, a poor man's way to make a living. I don't know who said it, but it's more timely today than ever. I'm glad I'm not a pro.

When I started doing photography in 2004, a friend stated I should shoot to satisfy myself--and for no other reason. So I chose to print large and only for myself. They get shown off now and then and occasionally there is a sale.

BTW, Bunny Yeager passed away at 85. She has one more book coming out of photos that have not been seen before. More Bikinis!

I read the entire essay. I like your thinking, and I like your writing, which is why I come here every day (or more often).

It is sad, but ... I wish I could remember where I read this, some 50+ years ago, that: When art is in vogue, go practical, do business and engineering, and when practicality is in vogue, go art. Gauging those zigs and zags is the tricky part.

I've been thinking of maybe watercolor?

Well written.
Technological change often brings cultural change. Massive example-the automobile replacing the horse and buggy. It caused major economic change as well as cultural and daily life changes. And we have seen it before in photography - the Kodak film camera replacing the wet plate. Now anybody, with no technical skill could make photos. Lugging a big camera, plus chemicals and a portable darkroom were no longer needed. Professional photographers were technologically displaced, until a new generation adapted to the new technology, and then it became a viable profession again. Sound familiar? The digital age of photography is still emerging, and many of the same kind of professional and cultural changes are in progress. The big question for me, is how will it develop and who will benefit from these changes? Its a work in progress.

I prefer your long posts, Mike, and this one is certainly on target.

I don't get much work these days (I'm 77, after all), so things are inevitably winding down. My career has by no means been sensational, but it's been an interesting life. Documentary assignments have taken me to 29 countries on five continents and around much of the U.S., and I published a coffee-table book that sold nearly 30,000 copies, with another soon to be published. But if I were just starting out, or worse perhaps, in mid-career, I don't know what I would do. I don't know that I could make a living.

Perhaps Dickens said it best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Ultimately, of course, Art Buchwald had it right: "Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time we've got."

I generally agree. That said, you must have realized by now the irony that you and the ever increasing popularity of this blog are in a way a part/symptom of the democratization and downfall.. even of the photographic specialties you listed.

When I began with the camera a many years ago this was one of the first sites I bookmarked. You (and thousands like you)are a significant source of inspiration and information to many of the new millions (billions?) of folks treating the art as a hobby and the craft as a commodity.

And where the "value" of the art is concerned, well, democratization (as it is known to do) has given everyone a voice... even the rude loud fools who criticize and insult that which they don't/can't begin to comprehend. That generall keeps things churning which is good for making butter but bad for finding the cream.

Hey it's the 21'st century where the only certainty is change... and the hunt for "page likes"... sigh.

While it may be satisfying to rant about the effects of technology on workers, it's really futile. It has been the effect of technology at every step. What do you think portrait painters were saying after Fox-Talbot and Dauguerre showed their new technologies?
I now have a half-century of experience in technology and could probably list 100 technological changes I have seen that resulted in technologies' companies, products and people being obsoleted ( I count Kodak and Polaroid among my customers over the years ) and I have learned that there is no way to stop it.
It's tempting to make the Darwinian analogy, but I will leave that to you!

fox hunting in England has had to adapt, I hear

Yes. It doesn't involve foxes any more - much to the delight of the foxes and most of us who live here and to the disgust of the idiots in red suits on horses who seemed to enjoy it for some reason.

Your essay is spot on. I don't miss film nor the darkroom, but I DO miss the photographers who put their hearts and souls in every image. Tice, Smith, Duncan, et al. Sadly, it has been difficult to make the art images we used to drool over. (I still love images like the Welsh Miners by Smith) and were "guised" as journalism.
Where this is all headed, I have no idea. I am, after all, the guy who predicted digital would never replace film nor would any manufacturer ever invent auto focus.
It's a great time for equipment but sad times for the creators.
Selling is almost a full time job now.
I could go on and on, but you nailed it.
Just my two pesos that are worth less as time goes on.

There are two main currents or trends taking place:

1. The economic impact of technology, the internet and the eclipse of property (intellectual, photo, music, copyright, etc..) and capitalism. It's not just photography that's being impacted. See:

2. The cultural impact of the "Photocalypse"
See this thread on the Rangefinder forum:
The "conversation" goes on for several pages.

Joe (a.k.a. Redlion)

Two notes:
1. Computerized automation(robots, really) in the equipment resulting in easily attained technically acceptable photographic imagery has eliminated much of the need for technically skilled photographers. Not all, but much.
2. The flooding omnipresence of these technically acceptable images has devalued them in the eyes of the general public. They're no longer rare or difficult to obtain...or worth paying for.

I also consider posting photos on the web an invitation to theft. I don't mind others seeing or sharing them for free, but I'd really mind a lot if someone else sold them and kept the money.

Mike. Take the dogs for a walk in the Spring sunshine. Take a camera. It'll all seem much better...

I'm really on the fence on this one. Yes, some professionals have suffered badly due to changes in technology. But also, others have been able to use the technology to find a way into photography as a money earner. Is a lot of money made by relatively few better or worse than less money made by more?

I do think some great photographers have experienced serious loss through absolutely no fault of their own. There are, however, many others (perhaps in the middle ranks) who simply failed to adapt, were overly complacent, or just hoped the whole digital thing would go away.

Is it a great time for photography? I don't think this can be answered without historical perspective.

Artistically, was ever a "great period" recognised in it's time?

Professionally has more or less been spent on photography? And if that figure is more, is it a bad thing if that spend has been spread more widely?

In language used by business schools, the Barrier to Entry into making quite good photographs has been lowered by putting computers into cameras. Shooters can devote more time to composition because the camera looks after the rest. It's all too easy.
That is why still photographers like me are switching to video, which still requires one to master a serious range of skills before one can make a film that has decent quality. And its fun. Recommended for jaded amateur photographers. And for professionals: read Kirk Tuck's brilliant blog.
Good article. Goff

Hi Mike,
I enjoyed your thoughtfull post.
1. The sheer number of pictures we see every hour, makes that people dont SEE them anymore. One simply doesn't have the time. We are fed up with visuals. That makes contemplating a picture as an art form an exeption.
2. If this is a good or a bad time for photoography, history will show in a few decades. In the 17th century dutch painters made some 3 million pictures. Some were made in "factories" in an industrial way. And then the pictures were forgotten for about a hundred years. ( Rembrandts Nachtwacht was put in an attic because it was too big/ the people didn't look good / the style wasn't fashionable anymore) Then the paintings were rediscovered and people throng to museums to see them.
3. Most of the great dutch painters ended rather poor, also because painting wasn't seen as an art form; a painter was not seen as an artist but as an artisan (subtle.....)
The development you showed is due to mass production. I am afraid it will stay this way for a century or so. And then the true great photographs will emerge again.

"instant classics" +1

Interesting read! And this begs the question:

Why do we photograph? What's the calling?

Whats the rewards? And what is the purpose?

For me it is about the love of people, joy of being creative, the challenge, the privilege of being able to create something meaningful to others, of creating something physical, preserving memories and telling a story.

Many thanks and very well written.
I work professionally and have to work more for less money these days.
I'm still working, so that is the up side.
Lucky for me my kids were "out of the house" when the bottom fell out. I wouldn't want to begin a career in professional photography right now.

Did too make it to the end! Beautifully expressed, it was a pleasure to read.

Thanks Mike.

Photography is a microcosm of society in general. Computers, networks, robots and concentration of wealth. Where will it all lead?

"Resistance Is Futile" because people think it is. Everything in the 'black arts' (i.e. advertising/commercial art, photography, etc.), has been driven down to base level because the gate-keepers decided over the years to kowtow to business and industry, and not demand respect for their tribe. Once the flood-gates open, then the quality purveyors find it harder and harder to demand the correct money and correct time to accomplish the job. The tyranny of digital photography appeared adjacent to the drop in educated buyers and the "good enough" attitude, something that never existed pre-digital. It's easy to blame the drop in quality and professionality to digital photography and the ease in which the barely initiated can take a technically decent picture (and I do), but the bigger problem is the actually professional image buyers that were willing to deal with non-professionals in our industry, based mostly on price. There was a time when if you hadn't made the commitment to the industry, and invested in it whole-heartedly, you couldn't get in the door. It's a difficult fight all along the chain to force you're bosses to "do-the-right-thing" professionally, and just work with professionals and pay the little bit more, but I don't see that fight or drive (or even the knowledge) in the sub-30 year old crowd...

People think it's a 'golden era' for photography because of digital? Then how come I can take any local magazine (and even some nationals), newspaper, advertising vehicle, and see horrible color, blown out skin tones, poor density, far in excess of anything I ever saw in the film era? It's the 'golden era' of monkeys doing everything amateur level, part time, and on the cheap, and calling it "pro"!

Good article, certainly made me re-evaluate what you were saying in the previous post and my comment on it. I'll echo Michael's comment above. It's about a lack of "infrastructure" to support great photography, professional or not, and I certainly can't argue with that.

The use of photographic images in society has changed, but is overall much higher than before, and I'd be willing to bet that the total amount of dollars spent on photography has either been stable or increased (though it would be interesting to see statistics on this). Some will gain from the changes, and some will lose. But I'm not convinced that it's a net loss even for professional photographers.

I think what's happened to professional photographers is playing out in parallel across a whole host of professions in response to changes in technology. Whether it's travel agents, realtors, stock brokers or salespeople, what is occurring is the erosion of the exclusivity of specialized skills and knowledge thanks to access to improved technology and the extraordinary information-sharing possibilities of the internet.

Digital photography is the ultimate self-teaching tool: no ongoing cost to taking photos and experimenting, no cost to sharing work, etc. In addition, with improvements to camera quality and automation, it is simply easier to take higher quality work than it used to be. In the past, not hiring a professional photographer to shoot your wedding was a recipe for almost certain disaster, since lacking the requisite knowledge, skill and experience to use the more limited equipment of the past would likely result in unacceptable results. People are now willing to ask Uncle Bob to shoot their wedding for free because they have a reasonable chance of getting good-enough results (thought obviously still with a higher risk of disaster than hiring a professional).

The inevitable consequence of this erosion of exclusivity is a reduced willingness on the part of potential customers to pay for the skills of specialists. Professional photographers get paid less now because their work is simply worth less to most people on account of there being more photographers with an acceptable level of skill for most peoples' needs willing to work for less money (or for free). For photographers to be successful commercially, they need to constantly be on the hunt for markets of value, but the overall drop in income may ultimately be unavoidable.

I think it depends on your perspective. It has never been a better time for people who want to take photographs. It is cheaper, easier, simpler. It has neve been a worse time for wanting to make a living as a photographer. The technical barriers to taking decent photographs have fallen. The gatekeepers no longer control access to photos. But the sheer number of images available drown out the interesting, and i think it has never been harder for talent to shine above the merely technically competent.

Change can be good, bad, or just different. I wonder how the changes in print quality and appearance are viewed by experienced photo printers? Is any digital print as good or better, or perhaps the same, as say dye transfer or platinum printing? Perhaps Ctein or some other well qualified printer can comment?

What you seem to lament is not the "culture" of photography but rather the economic environment for commercial photography.

I think you're looking at the wrong side of the skillet.

Photography's low cost of entry has long made it a vocational choice for an enormous range of people, many (most?) of whom either fail or never reach a continuously self-sustainable level of income. Older practitioners snarling at the digital parade from their chemical porches are just begging to be knocked-out of the business. Ditto those who maintain uncompetitive rates without adapting service strategies. Keeping pace with one's industry, business practices, and customer expectations is fundamental for any line of business.

But the other side of the skillet is the more productive side to view. Photography's conversion to digital has arguably enabled more people to "take the leap" to trying photography as a vocational endeavor than ever before. Sure, the same failure/languish rates probably apply. And sure this rush of digital hobbyists into self-declared "professional" ranks has nudged some old-timers. And sure many of these folks aren't very good with photography and run their businesses in a day-to-day job-to-job manner. But the miniscule cost of a middling digital camera has allowed countless people to step out of the rut, if only for a few months or years. That's worth lauding.

Of course underneath all this shebob we have dramatically shifting economies and shifting public expectations and needs. But that's always been the working landscape with every business, hasn't it?

As a bit of a postscript the most successful commercial photographers I'm familiar with run imaging businesses. They're quite talented, very ambitious, and skilled with commercial imaging needs (which, today, merely includes photography). They hire competent staffs to attend to their studio operations and production coordination. They form favored alliances with other pros and businesses (carpenters, painters, make-up artists, fashion artists, catering, etc.) that enable them to tackle big and unusual jobs. And most important they stay focused on what their clients need. What's more, they have plans and strategies that have not only carry them through lean times but enable them to expand when business picked up. I know of one studio, for example, that devoted over one straight year, mostly non-billable, toward mastering on-site food photography when their normal fashion/modeling catalog business slumped in 2009. This fellow's thinking was that small start-up restaurants would be among the first businesses to emerge from the rubble, and that those restaurants would need quick and affordable in-situ promotional photography of their menu offerings and restaurants. It worked, and the digital era is what enabled them to make this investment.

Change always hurts somebody. That's life.

Mike, my response was a bit long for comment, so I wrote a blog post instead, with links to your site. This way, if you like what I have to say you might link to my site, which is kind of the point of writing on the internet anyway, to get people form one place to another. This sort of behaviour, (getting people to go to their links) is what photographers are going to have to consider, if they want to draw people into their orbits, to get them to see the work that they are making.
I personally, think that photography has always been in a state of change and photography is such a large thing that we may as well be talking about writing.
We are really at the dawn of a new era in visual literacy and that is a good thing. We are also in the middle of two revolutions and one of those is the internet and how we consume our media, this is what is affecting photographers ability to earn money. The other, is that digital capture as has been pointed out in numerous comments, has removed or lowered barriers to entry into the professional photography field. It is hard to make money but then it has always been hard to make money otherwise everyone would have been doing it. Maybe something else is also happening, that we so rarely acknowledge and that is that with the minimum wage being so hard to live on these days. Maybe, it is better to be a starving artist/photographer, than someone who is looked down on working one/two or more shitty jobs at the minimum wage. Working somewhere that lacks any form of social prestige and/or social standing, is not that desirable and I would rather be a poor photographer, than someone working in the local burger bar (McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc) establishment.
I personally think, it is important to get on with it and find your area of photography that reflects on your other interests in life. From that their might be a way to make money, as other people will also have interests and if you are a visual story teller you will eventually figure out how to connect your stories with those of others, then it may be possible to make money as a photographer.
Enough rant. Thanks for the attention.

Good Post by the way Mike.

Paul Melcher also has a recent post that looks at this subject from a different angle, that is worth checking out.

Ctein has commented -- he closed his darkroom. (I'm sure he wouldn't say he can consistently produce "the same" results with digital that he did with dye transfer though.) For that matter he's discussed the issue in some articles here.

Galen Rowell converted to digital printing back around 1999 (there's an article on his web site about the process still last I checked) because a good digital printer convinced him he got better results that way.

One of the print sales the last few years was a photographer who had given up dye transfer to go all-digital output.

The newer work by Salgado is shot digitally and then digital printed onto negatives and sent to the darkroom, which is a bit unusual; but I'll count it as another major photographer who chooses to use digital in some part of the workflow when he doesn't have to (basic B&W materials are still easily available).

Visual literacy is NOT ENOUGH. The will to communicate is also necessary to compose an effective photographic document.

Dr. Carl Schmidt, I feel your pain.I started in photography as a teenager in the late 1960s, developing and printing 35mm film shot with an all manual SLR (it did have a TTL light meter). I have found that habits of mind cultivated by the act of photography help me "see" more attentively, and the habit of seeing attentively has been essential in my current career as surgical pathologist at a university hospital with a pathology residency program. It is a curious truth that most pathology residents don't automatically extend their professional training in "seeing" tissue attentively to the process of taking photographs that show the salient features of a case. They have some visual models in the photographs published in the standard textbooks. We try to give some basic instructions on camera operations and on philosophy of clinical photography ("Decide what specific finding you need to demonstrate, then frame the photo accordingly."). The usual result is a "generic" sloppy low power photograph. One has to WANT to communicate (teach) in order to compose a coherent photograph, and most residents aren't that motivated to communicate beyond the text of the pathology report.

I switched to films or as Americans call them movies. At least in the short film market there is only about 50,000? made each year. So the competition is not so fierce. If you want to see them they are here.
Photography is telling a story. Images that obsess you. Writing the story, getting actors, controlling the scene/clothing/music etc is a powerful drug. Its not quite a substitute for stills, it is different. HCB once said he wished he had stuck with movies who would argue with him but maybe who would agree with him.

Photography is by no means unique. The market has changed due to a disruptive technology and the consequent new business models. This has happened in music and is now happening in TV, film, books etc. I have heard representatives of the affected industries say that they don't want to change their business model. They will therefore die. Same for photographers. One can moan about how the good old days are not there anymore, or one can adapt to the new environment and find new revenue sources. Photography is not in any way different from the other business I mentioned above, and from many others which I have not but which have been equally affected by the new technologies, globalization, and the emergence of new business models.

I don't usually comment, simply because, either because others have said what I want to say or any little thing I may want to say I agree or disagree with is of no great consequence.

I read the entire thing (I usually do), and while three months may have allowed you the leisure of polishing it, I like the unpolished rant.

I agree with your point of view; as a hobbyist, it's a great time for me, I am learning about the art, have access to equipment and, via the internet, I get to read and see what people like yourself have to say and show.

I think it's a tough time for professionals, and as the global community gets smaller, true "art" will stand out, but the noise of the billions of images generated will not diminish; we will "discover" artists that would otherwise remain unheralded, and probably drown out some who were once popular... the way we see photography and the way we approach it has always changed, now more rapidly than before.

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