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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Amateur, Professional, Image Maker.

A photograph I created before I started Limephoto and trying to earn a living through my camera 
There is often the conflation that serious photographers are professional photographers. On top of this everywhere you look there are people claiming to be professional photographers. I guarantee you know someone who is a ‘professional photographer’. In fact you probably have one in your family. I get regular calls from individuals wanting to get some basic training under their belts so that they too can “make money out of photography”. So when you look up someone on Facebook and they claim to be a ‘professional photographer’, they probably are, in the simple sense that they earn an income through photography. Professional does not necessarily mean good, and by no means does it mean masterful.

I regularly read commentary trying to stake a claim to the title of ‘professional photographer’. The accepted definition by the industry (which means professional photographers ;-) ) is that the term ‘professional photographer’ should be reserved for people who derive their entire income or the majority of it from photography, and more specifically from making photographs. So what does this mean for the start-out photographer still trying to find their lucky break, but meantime holding down a day job? Are they not professional? Is their product likely to be any different to the person who earns their entire income from photography? On that note, what income level do we look at to determine whether a person is a professional or not? Is the person standing outside Home Affairs with a portable printer and a small camera shooting ID photos the same as the photographer hired to shoot the cover of a magazine? Both photographers earn their entire income from photography. Ergo, they must be the same.

What I am trying to point out is that the term ‘professional photographer’ is no longer a particularly useful term. In many ways I agree with my colleague Paul Greenway when he says that he simply calls himself a photographer. He doesn’t try to classify himself as a landscape photographer, or a portrait photographer…or whatever classification you would to use. However, the term or the concept of the ‘the professional photographer’ sticks out since it is supposed to designate somebody who not only earns a living from photography, but can produce consistent quality results…in theory.

It has come home to me again and again and again that amateur does not mean amateurish. I am incessantly blown away by the style, quality and output of several ‘amateur’ photographers that I know. The only reason they could be called ‘amateur’ is simply that they do not earn an income from creating images, and do so purely for the joy of photography. Their images are superb. In many ways, they outstrip known photographers for creativity, boldness and even technical ability. There is a reason why international photographic salons are often won by amateurs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that several professional photographers I have met and known have less technical ability and aesthetic sense than the amateurs that I have met and worked with. Why is this?

Creating imagery for the joy of it, or because we are drawn to the way that the camera sees the world is not something that is purely the domain of supposed professional photographers. In fact, it is more the realm of the amateur and the (granted) artist who are not constrained by the requirements of earning an income from the camera. Without the constraints of paying the bills the amateur is able to explore image-making in ways that the average professional photographer forgets to. I say forgets for a reason. Caught up in the day to day of running a photography business, professionals end up photographing for the client rather than for themselves. A lucky few are given artistic licence or become known for their particular way of viewing the world. 
Complete experimentation in the months before starting Limpehoto. I had been shooting since 1994, partly for money, but mainly for pleasure up until 2008.

So, in my personal way of viewing the hierarchy of photographers, I see a third category; one that is neither amateur nor professional. This is the category of the Image-Maker. This is the person who crafts images as a master artist would. They could earn an income from this, or not. The point is that the image that they create is masterful. The end product is masterful. Does it matter that someone created it in their spare time through the sheer love of creating photographic images? In the same way, does it matter if it was created during the course of a commissioned shoot? The late Terence Donovan lauded amateur photographers since they were the true essence of photography. Photography was literally invented by amateurs.

I find that as an income earning photographer where my business is making images for other people - I gain the greatest insight into photography through the amateur photographers that I know and respect. The best of the them don’t care what equipment they use, or if they do, lovingly use the equipment as a master violinist would a Stradivari. They are passionate about photography because of the way it allows them to approach the world. The make images for the sake of making images. 
One of the more creative images shot during a book project for Standard Bank in 2010

 If there’s a take away from this it is for so-called professional photographers to let go of the ego and surround yourself with competent amateurs. It is for those amateurs to realise that the images you create are as powerful, as important as those created by ‘professionals’ (and in many instances a good deal better). Hypothetical status and hierarchy is meaningless since using it would (and sadly does) alter how we view an image so that who took it is more important than what it portrays. This is nonsensical to me, yet very much a reality in the current photographic community. It should be about the image. Currently it is about the photographer. For the sake of the photographic image as an artistic and constantly evolving way of picturing the world, it needs to change. Vive le amateur. Vive le image-maker. 

Taken on holiday a while back without the cares and worries of the usual 'business' of photography

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