These are difficult times. Layoffs. Furloughs. Bankruptcies. It’s hard to make your way and be hopeful for the future when the future is so uncertain.
Thus, when a very talented photographer friend of mine visited this week, he had a lot to say about his frustration with photography as a profession, as a hobby, and as a method of self-expression.
The key questions – for which I didn’t have good answers – were about finding our voice in a world crowded with voices, finding our narrative in a world bursting with stories, and finding our audience. The last one is key, since the only way we can actually make a living taking pictures is by selling them to an audience.
This friend and I have been taking pictures together since college, where we met in the mid 1980s. At that time, photography was chemistry and alchemic, and a little mysterious. Just making a sharp image in a world of blurry ones seemed like an accomplishment, and actually having the skills to single-handedly make pictures, process film, and make prints made you a rock star.
Today’s photographic climate could scarcely be more different. Getting a sharp image is so commonplace that we have to remind ourselves that it’s no longer enough. And printing photographs? I love to see my stuff in print, both in our newspaper and as an end of my artistic endeavors, but the truth is that most people, most of the time, just want to swipe past images on their phones or tablets. When is the last time, for example, you saw someone bring a stack of prints to work to show off their new baby or their kid’s first day of fourth grade?
So, can we make it in today’s world taking pictures for a living? I hope so, because I love this craft like sunshine, but it gets more difficult all the time. In the end, though, my answer is yes, if we can keep our eyes on the future, and make pictures honestly and intelligently.