I write this article to tackle an issues I have with (at least within myself) the notion of being a photographer. It has, in totality, to do with the definition we have placed on ourselves as photographers, and I believe who we think we are vs who we are, are two very different truths.
The photographer, by current tacit definition, is someone who is known to, and historically, has a consistency of, engaging in a behaviour which sees them repeatedly taking photos of their choosing, displaying those photos, sustaining quality images and being able to market their work successfully so as to gain a following and support network of engaged fans.
In recent years photography has become very popular, and as such has had its definition contributed to by a market which improved the accessibility of equipment, reduced the complexity of taking photographs, and supplied various addictive social platforms to share pictures on. In this day and age, most photographers, as a function of their definition, can display their photographs as subjective trophies on one or all of the social media sites for judgement by a wider audience.
The dualist state between not photographer and photographer is our overarching truth. We shift between these two states to form our totality.
Being a photographer is a truth that only exists in the past. Never in the present and future. The success of a photographer is delineated to their fame, glamour, judged ability and quality of image, and lastly the number of people who know and follow them. Is this a truth of its function though? Does the publicity of a photographer denominate its essence?
In recent years, self obtained and supplied definitions of the ‘photographers’ fall to the function of a bio box in social media. “I tell stories with light” is a commonly cringe-worthy example of some of the bio’s that exist out there. Without getting too detailed with science and physics, this is a partly true definition – and the attractive characteristic of a photo; the outcome of someone taking a picture, is that it freezes light into an object for viewing.
Believe it or not, if we were to freeze time in reality, we would stop particles from being able to move freely which would mean magnetism, the perception of wavelengths, etc. would all cease to function, and we would be perpetually trapped in darkness; so a photo is capable of freezing physics which is pretty cool. But the definition used to define the photographer in our current time comes in bad faith. Part of the photographer’s contemporary interpretation is one that is supplemented by camera companies selling the dream of glorified and successful outcomes of a photo if you use their specific camera, utilizing marketing “sharper, clearer, better” pictures. This has been adopted as part of the photographer’s definition. A professional must produce quality work so to speak as a photographer.
In my opinion, the definition of a photographer is less about quality and more about its essence. Not the notion of the photographer the camera companies push as a market.
The notion of ‘photographer’ is questionable in the publicity of the matter too.
The photographer, by their definition, is one with all the tools required to take ‘quality’ photos. This by no means even touches the sides of what it means to be a photographer in my opinion. Your tools are not your definition, merely a support of your function. Social media does this as well. Instagram; or more specifically the glorification of the idea of being a professional/famous photographer in recent years, has become heavily glorified through social media platforms like Instagram.
The blogs/posts about successes and triumphs and famous people who’ve stared down ‘their’ lens and what have you, has also supplemented the image of a photographer as the objective outcome equal to ‘the successful professional photographer’ should set ‘accreditations’ be met. I bet, in your mind’s eye, you could easily come up with several names of famous and successful photographers who inspire you to be the object ‘the successful photographer.’ You may aim to enact their outcomes and successes as self-defining and hold dear the title of the photographer during your journey of accomplishments laid before you by their success, to advertise your own success. This dream, however, is neither the definition of a photographer nor the definition of success. It does not define you as anything other than a dreamer who has a want. Your tools are not your definition, merely a support of your function.
The moments that we click a button to cause our cameras to record time and space, is in actual fact, the only time you are a photographer in essence
But, beyond that, the idea that we tell stories with light, or that we capture light, or that as photographers we seek light and that our title is the sum total of all our success in industry and market is absurd. The notion of ‘photographer’ is questionable in the publicity of the matter too. The statements above used to currently define ‘the photographer’, while they have some truth to them, are a response based around the glamour of being a photographer. But, it is the object ‘photographer’, not the essence of being a photographer. The truth about being a photographer is that a photographer only exists in the past. Never in the present and future.
But many might say “Ed, you’re crazy, I have the photos to prove that I am a photographer.” This may be true, but the existence of proof of your photographer-ness makes your argument invalid. It comes to reason that every photo you display as proof of your photographer-ness is only proof of the past. Not the present and future. Your success as a photographer is not the function of a photographer, it’s the function and essence of a storyteller named ‘photographer’. Your stories recall the essence as you objectify yourself in the glamour of you as the object ‘photographer’. This, however, doesn’t make you the essence ‘photographer’.
Merely an object for others to observe in glamour through publicity. It, therefore, must stands to reason that a photographers truth exists predominantly in their past. The moments that we click a button to cause our cameras to record time and space, is in actual fact, the only time you are a photographer in essence. You exist at that moment and only at that moment as a person enacting the essence of taking a photo. The moment this behaviour ends, you also end being a photographer, until the next time you take a photo. So, you are only a photographer for the length of time it takes to take a single photo.
You continuously become a photographer as you take individual photos, never achieving the transcendent notion of the photographer. Merely watching it pass you/we as you/we chase it back into the past to present in the future. This why it stands to reason that a photographers truth exists predominantly in their past. The truth to being a photographer isn’t the sum total of your stories or Instagram feed, a plethora of photos on display, the best pieces of equipment, or anything like that. It’s the split second you transcend as someone being a holder of photos, a storyteller of photographer etc., to a taker of photos. As people we spend a lot of time seeking the photo, this, however, doesn’t make us photographers — it makes us the potential of photographers.
The dualist state between not photographer and photographer is our overarching truth. We shift between these two states to form our totality. As a photographer, you exist in a moment so short you probably don’t have recollections of it. As a seeker, you are lost and essence-less until such time that you trigger your camera. In its absurdity, the seeker of the photographer is perpetually stuck seeking the essence of the photographer. The act in itself is so short and fleeting, it’s instantaneously a past truth, and as such one, we hope to repeat with ongoing success to not remain essence-less. As such, you are not a photographer; merely a seeker of ‘photographer’ and that in itself is strange.
Smaller Like Man – 8×10 inch matte paper print
Smaller like man is one of Ed's most recognised pictures; This images has been featured internationally and on the Lens Culture facebook and instagram pages. If you would like a copy of the print please follow the link below