Labels, Finger Pointing, Fear, and the Real Value of Photography

I read an interesting blog post “On Real Photographers” by David duChemin recently. He talks about growing weary of the photographers’ complaints that “now everyone has a camera and suddenly everyone’s a photographer”.

My first experiences of being part of a group of my peers did not go well. My memories of being in school are mostly filled with my efforts to fit in, and the efforts of others to keep me out. The new kid. The smaller kid. The kid with the funny name. So I come honestly by my desire to see others included.

 So when I hear people complain that “now everyone has a camera and suddenly everyone’s a photographer” I hear the same old, fear-driven, mean-spirited, zeitgeist of the schoolyard.

 The same craft, beautiful for it’s democratic nature, that admitted you, and admitted me, will admit others. And with the same tools we picked up with such wonder, those others will make photographs. That’s what cameras do. And it’s what people who own them do. And they will, in that moment, become photographers: makers of photographs.

They are not faux-tographers. They are not necessarily “just camera-owners”. Neither are they DSLR-monkeys, or whatever other pejorative seems clever at the time. Shame on you. Shame on us as an industry.”

Gail shooting feature doc "Opening Our Eyes" at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal
Gail shooting her feature documentary “Opening Our Eyes” at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

It hit home. As the perennial “new kid” (moving 11 times before I graduated from high school), being one of only six women when I attended Brooks Institute and now being dismissed or frequently feeling invisible because of my age, I’ve personally faced a lifetime of the “same old, fear-driven, mean-spirited, zeitgeist of the schoolyard.”

I despise our seemingly human need for “definitions and categories” and placing people into boxes defined by gender, age, race or religion. So I question why do we determine the creative value of photographers based on whether they are “professionals” or “amateurs” or if photography is their sole means of making a living? It’s exclusionary and judgmental based on fear and the notion that someone has to be excluded for the rest of us to win. This attitude has no business in a creative business because creativity has no boundaries dictated by “who’s in” or “who’s not”.

I have always been more interested in the power of what a good photograph or film can do – not who created it and what box that creator fits into. I’m interested in the story one has to tell. We are visual communicators and we are all unique but only if we listen to our own voice and create from that voice. Whenever I have trusted and listened to my internal voice and created from my own unique perspective and my life’s experiences, I have been “on purpose” and my work has resonated across genders, race and age. I suppose I could copy or mimic the “style du jour” whether it is HDR or photographing hipsters with tattoos and attempt to be someone I’m not. I don’t have the desire to do that because that is not why I became a photographer or filmmaker. That’s not to say that I don’t like and appreciate photographers who are following these styles but it’s not me and creativity doesn’t come from mimicking others. I’ve seen a lot of styles and techniques over the decades I’ve been in the photo business. They come and they go – just like the photographers who chase after the latest trend.

David states so eloquently:

‘Our categories are useless. Harmful, even. They separate us. They keep us siloed and cut off from generosity and openness and collaboration. They keep us focused on our own “qualifications” and not on the audiences and markets we should be finding new ways to serve, to inspire, to connect with. Our scarcity mentality is hurting us. It’s stopping us from being creative about making a living. The world owes us nothing, which is hard to accept when we’ve paid for a degree, invested in gear, or bought business cards, only to find out the universe doesn’t give a damn, and cares only about what value we bring.’

I too am weary of the blame, the finger pointing and all the stupid human tricks based on fear, and the notion that someone has to lose in order for me to win, because ultimately that comes from a place of insecurity and ego and rarely does that produce something of value. I don’t need a license that proclaims I’m a professional or feel the need to hide my age in order to compete. My value comes from a lifetime of experiences that made me who I am. If I choose to allow someone to define who I am or what I am capable of, or allow myself to be stopped by the naysayers, then I only have myself to blame.

It would have been so much easier to quit or stop myself every time someone threw roadblocks in my way based on their own notions of “what’s in” or “what’s not” and that would have led to an empty life. I chose instead to follow my heart and my convictions and accept the rejections that ultimately come when one faces their fears and stays true to who they are. It has never been easy but I’ve never sought easy. I’ve too busy living a full and rich life, using my craft to create awareness, impact social change or just to bring a smile to someone’s face and create a memory.

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5 thoughts on “Labels, Finger Pointing, Fear, and the Real Value of Photography

  1. heavenhappens April 21, 2015 / 8:11 am

    What an amazing and heartfelt post. I don’t think experienced, professional photographers have anything to worry about from the amateurs like me- snap happy with a big standard camera and an iPhone. I take photos when I’m happy or having fun or see something interesting. It captures a memory, a place, object or time, preferably a bit of the natural world or my beloved grandchildren.
    I used to be despondent that I could never write, paint or take photos as well as others. But now I have a go at any creative work- only just to please myself. If it pleases anyone else that is a great bonus!

    • Gail Mooney April 21, 2015 / 8:18 am

      Thanks for your reply – I think the best “art” comes from who we are – just as you have expressed.

  2. Deidre Cunningham April 21, 2015 / 12:08 pm

    Your post was recently shared on Facebook. I read it , nodding my head in agreement with your insight and opinion. Thank you for articulating so beautifully what I and many others feel but cannot express.

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