Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s statement and the state of photography
I am here to say a thing or two about yesterday’s Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer statement: “there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”
I also would like to make a few comments about an interesting article I read today by Photography Consultant Jim Colton on this topic, which he aptly titled “spitting on the grave”.
I am a so-called “professional photographer”. In other words, my only (meager) income is derived from photography, so, it is obvious that, like others, I am also inclined to feel somewhat offended my Ms. Mayer’s statement.
However, I can’t help but think I should thank the CEO of one of the largest image databases in the world for her unpleasantly bold, arrogant, misinformed honesty.
Unlike her, I don’t believe there is “no such thing as professional photographers anymore”. To the contrary, I do see a lot of old and new talent out there. Men and women who literally immolate their entire existence to photography, who risk their lives to tell visual stories from war zones, with minimal (if any) help and support from the news organizations that used to be there, to cover our back, when I was involved in similar assignments, years ago. And I see clever and talented image-makers, literally sweating, eating, breathing photography in every moment of their lives, creating innovative, interesting, powerful jaw-dropping images, constantly overcoming new and old challenges in their conceptual and stylistic explorations.
Fact is that many publishing platforms, the very structure that kept professional photographers employed within a “real” working environment in the past, has been re-assessing priorities, shrinking or even completely disappearing in the last decade or so.
When I hear the last highly respected magazines are trolling on Flickr for free content or buying their cover image from a stock agency for thirty dollars I also ask myself: is there an actual need for “professional photographers” anymore??
Ms. Mayer’s statement is at best misinformed, but the arrogance transpiring from it sheds light on the arrogance and opportunistic disengagement of large sectors of the photography industry from us, professional image-makers, while giving an insider’s view of the strategies many gatekeepers of photography have firmly adopted in the last decade and will probably adopt in the next.
There are many financial and cultural explanations for this, which I think both photographers and publishers are already very aware of.
Today there are indeed fewer opportunities than before, even for very talented photographers, to earn a decent living. The laws of supply and demand in this industry have been greatly altered by a variety of factors: the massive, indiscriminate digital acquisition and ease of distribution (cell phone photography is one) and the lowering of image standards, even by the last reputable publishing platforms, who are increasingly investing towards their web presence, are only two of them.
Jim Colton, asks from his article about Ms. Mayer’s statement: “Does she really think that anyone with an iPhone or a point and shoot can cover the wars in Afghanistan or the strife in Libya or Syria where we recently lost incredibly talented professionals like Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington? “
Sounds like she does. And let’s remember here the implicit value of shooting with an iPhone for news is believed to be the immediacy of transmission. However, I would dare saying that lately I also perceive a trend in publishing iPhone photos because of the “reportage meets digital art” stylistic qualities (although this is often publicly denied by publishers AND photographers) many seem to attribute to them.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. I too welcome innovation and experimentation.
I highly respect Mr. Lowy’s work and I often use an iPhone camera myself, usually when I feel it will get me closer to what I want to photograph, more unobtrusively than a full size camera.
But let’s go back to the well-written article by Jim Colton. He says: “This whole idea that “anyone with a camera,” can be a professional photographer is both absurd and unsettling. It is bad enough that the web is now filled with fodder and noise simply because everyone THINKS they’re a professional photographer and feels obligated to post them immediately without regard to its content. There have been more pictures taken in the last two years than all of history before it….an incredible statistic! And as a result, we are being bombarded with useless clutter.”
Yes Mr. Colton, I agree with you, this is a very unsettling reality for a professional photographer, but the real power to contain visual fodder and noise mostly rests in the hands of the gatekeepers of photography, not only in photographers. If image publishers decide not to use such “useless [but darn cheap] clutter” in their publications, exhibitions, web pages, perhaps a new contingent of professional photographers will be empowered and fairly compensated to bring back much needed quality and light to the increasingly dark panorama of international journalism and to the world of photography in general.
No algorithm necessary. These people could and should become the “filters” you say (and I agree) we so urgently need.
I really don’t care if the web is filled with visual crap.
I have the option not to look at it.
I do worry when the last existing image publishing platforms start using more and more of that cheap or free crap, of unattributed content, readers photos and videos, Instagram feeds… I know what that means: an early forced retirement for many talented, dedicated photographers and the denial of employment for new generations.
The promoters, distributor, gatekeepers of photography, whether they are publishers, gallery owners or curators, are the only apt (albeit not infallible) filtering entities in the current deluge of visual noise. They are the only ones who can give back to professional photographers their fading validation and retribution.
And they can do so only re-educating a photo-industry, which seemingly has swiftly forgotten about the value of images, and the difficulty of capturing really powerful ones.
I would welcome the even harder (perhaps utopian) task of re-educating the public, whose brains are cannon fodder of unscrupulous, fast, endless image feeds, and finally, moving away from the incestuous, closed group, elitist mentality plaguing many photography circles today.
Bottom line is: if the photo industry and all its branches don’t start investing in photographers again, promoting new and old talents, Ms. Mayer’s statement will eventually become reality.
There are excellent full-time photographers out there who are really hurting.
Many, not being able to earn a living doing what they love and are good at (taking pictures), try to monetize on their past experience or on their name, or their successful “web presence”, by teaching all sort of workshops, raising the expectation of even more aspiring professional photographers who will soon land onto the hard reality of an imploded state of the industry, of unrealistic retribution for their work and will have to resort almost exclusively to grants or kickstarters in order to pursue their photography “careers”.
I think we must thank Ms. Mayer’s arrogant, misinformed statement: it is a clear indication from the CEO of one of the largest image databases in the world about where we can stick that big telephoto lens of ours, unless we quickly start reassessing our values, priorities and business practices in the world of photography.