Let's face it. No one knows your work. Your best image has barely 10 likes. You didn't go to photography school, the closest you have to a phd is the “HD” on your TV. You never made a dime out of your images and the only gallery space you've ever had is your mom's living room. You're a nobody, so how can you call yourself a REAL photographer?
“I don't call myself a photographer”
I heard this phrase too many times as one of the two head honchos behind Inspired Eye photography magazine, so in this article I will try to tackle what actually makes you a photographer. I think in terms of presuppositions (meaning: I automatically analyze the underlying suppositions people make while talking) here's what I understand from this phrase:
1) There are prerequisites for being called a photographer
2) I do not meet to prerequisites
3) Therefore I am not a photographer
Them Photography prerequisites
Let's think about that first presupposition for a second: “There are prerequisites for being called a photographer”. What is that presupposing? An authority. Because someone has to put the prerequisites down in the first place.
But here's what we see, the prerequisites are plastic, no two people have the same ones, so it's fair to say that most prerequisites are actually self imposed. In simpler words, many tell themselves they are not photographers based on criteria that they set up themselves. Crazy, no? Let's observe those I believe that people hold and see that they do not hold water.
You need to be famous
Fame has no bearing on whether or not you are a photographer. There's this mistaken notion that if you have good work, you're going to be recognized. It follows then that if your work is not known, your work is not good. So does that mean that Vivian Maiers (A nanny-photographer discovered years after her death) work was not good until it got well known? Nonsense.
The act of photography is one of creation. Once you've made the image, it stands on its own. Fame added or not is irrelevant. There's many unknown excellent photographers, and I mean EXCELLENT. And there's many famous but average photographers. Between me and you, most of the famous photographers of our day are simply put, overrated. So it's foolish to say that you are not a photographer because you are not famous when many famous ones are average. Inversely I can also tell you that some of the folks that go trough our magazine interviews are killer photographers yet are unknown.
You need to be in a gallery
Likewise as for fame, being in a gallery has no bearing on if you are a photographer or not. Don't get me wrong there's some real good photographers in galleries, but to think the gallery is this magical place where all the real photographers go is mistaken. I've seen great work in and outside galleries both, so participating in a show cannot be used as a criteria. Plus galleries and collecting is a business, the understanding is that the work will go up in value with time and if you don't market yourself to be hot, forget it.
You need to go to school
Photography is all about the images. How you learn to create these images is up to you. Many well-known photographers didn't study photography academically. Henri Cartier Bresson went to study Literature & Painting. Vivian Maiers was too busy being making a living as a nanny for this stuff, Ansel Adams was home-schooled and was mainly interested in Piano & music before he took the camera. I myself am a graphic designer. Make the best choice for your images, if school is better for you, go for it, but your formal education has no bearing on whether you are a photographer or not.
You need to make money with your images
Just because no one wants to pay for your images doesn't mean anything about you as a photographer. Some great amateur photographers can put some pros to shame and vice versa. The highest point you can reach in photography is to fully realize your vision, not to end up making money. Many seek money as a sort of validation of their photography and therefore of themselves but I think it's putting it in the wrong place.
I'm a pro, I sell my stuff. But I would be as happy if I wasn't because images stand on their own. A great image is a great image whether someone wants to buy it or not. I'm just happy making images, the money aspect brings the bread home.
So….what makes you a photographer?
Sooooo if these common prerequisites do not fit the bill as requirements to call yourself as a photographer…what makes you one? drumroll please!…………..
What makes you a photographer is if you set out to be one and work at it. It's weird but hear me out. It comes from the fact that we act in accordance to who we believe we are. Belief in itself is nothing, saying we are a kind person for example will not make us kind out of the blue because we said so. But that belief in being a kind person will eventually produce actions that are consistent with that belief if it is strong enough.
So, having a belief alone is wishful thinking, but having your belief drive your actions isn't. My grandfather, my mom and dad always told me that “I do not finish what I start”, and whether or not that was true as the time, I internalized that as true belief and I did indeed continue that pattern for years until I removed that belief. This is the same thing that I believe determines who a real photographer is: the person who say they want to become one an act it out.
We all have an idea of what kind of photographer we want to be, and eventually with enough work and will we will become what we set out to be. And with hindsight, we will realize that we became a photographer the day we set out to be one. One day while I was toying around with my first DSLR, and out of the blue, I had a vision of what could be possible with my life, from then on I said I was a photographer and I worked on it.
Was I a REAL photographer then? I was…..as much as a seed is a tree. Get it? Think bout it…. A seed is only a seed until it grows. When it finally grows it's a tree, but where did the tree come from? A seed. And this is the same thing for photography. You are a photographer if you become accomplished the way you want to be, but everything started when you set your foot down and called yourself a photographer. because you called yourself a photographer you worked at it, essentially creating your own self fulfilling prophecy.
“I am a photographer” as a self-fulfilling prophecy
There is WAY too much information out there in the world for your brain to process. So your brain uses a handy dandy filter to filter out the stuff you want from what you don't want. For example it filters people who are important to you (family, kids) to other people at large, that's why you can pick up someone or something you know in a crowded city.
If you say you are not a photographer your brain will act out your wishes and filter photography relevant stuff out …..and if inversely you say that you are one, your brain will also act out your wishes and filter photography related things in. Photography is a state of mind, it's a constant readiness for images. So why wouldn't you want your brain to alert you if there's an image coming up in front of you?
Saying something like I am or I am not is a very strong, core statement because you are dealing with your identity (I am). Whatever you put after the I am/I am not will be like a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a sad example of this woman letting guys do what they want with them, when asked why she said “I am a dirty girl, therefore I do dirty things”. That idea was introduced by her grandfather (bastard!), but you see how belief drives action and every action in turn drives belief. Watch what you tell yourself in general but for the scope of this article, what you say to yourself about you being a photographer or not
I believe that Photographers are those who set out to be one and work on it. It's about setting out an intent and working at it. It's only with hindsight that we will realize that we became a photographer when we said we were one. At the end of the day, we act out what we believe about ourselves because the brain filters the world depending on certain basic things we tell it. If we tell it we are a photographer, then it will help us achieve this goal. What are you telling yourself? Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting
About the author
[userpro template=card user=f8admin]