The end of the week on the web offers a chance for idle surfing and browsing of content that normally would slip below the radar. An interesting question was raised this week in an open letter, posted on PetaPixel by Cheri Frost, to Good Morning America criticizing a recent Bride on a Budget wedding segment. Packed with money saving ideas, one of the suggestions made by the presenter was to “save a few hundred dollars and make a college kid happy” by hiring a trainee photographer. On first thoughts that idea sounds agreeable in a way that saying ‘save money and hire a student hairdresser’ does not. It also articulates a problem facing all those involved in creative industries which is, how do you earn respect for your skills and get fair pay for your professional experience.
Frost raises many good responses to GMA’s segment including mentioning the permanency of photos compared to say a cake. Photos and the rings are the lasting tangible memories of a wedding. There is also the social, or personal value of photos to both the couple and the attendees, and a likelihood of the participants in the wedding not realizing what is worth capturing until after the whirl of the event has passed. She also points out how professional wedding photographs have built up a wealth of experience in executing their job and navigating the chaotic and stressful nature of weddings. In other professions experience is clearly connected to perceived professional ability and pay packet. At a salon or in a restaurant the head chef and hairdresser are automatically respected by customers as the most creative or capable individual in the place. With photography or art this is not the case. Perhaps, because of the dreamy hopes when it comes to art and being the one to get lucky by bagging an upcoming future megastar some people are more skeptical about the need for a professional photographer. Photography suffers from being both a hobby and a profession so many people mistakenly believe they know a lot about the subject because they engage with it on holidays and at parties. It is easy to become camera savvy through purchasing and recreationally using a camera and as Frost writes with so many photos taken at a wedding even an amateur is bound statistically to get one or two good shots. Amateurs are also likely to iniatally favor shots that seems great on first review but after looking at it several times looses appeal, much like the ever rotating facebook profile picture. Still, there is a big difference between camera savy and professional, but still photographers, especially in a financially tough environment, have to justify their worth and fight off cheaper instagram-mers or citizen journalists.
This lead me back to thinking about the recent uproar that followed the death of 17 year-old Molhem Barakat who was working freelance in Syria for Reuters. The accusation from British freelance photo-journalist Hannah Lucinda Smith being that she refused to work with him due to concerns about both his age and lack of professional war zone training. To encourage a 17 year old to actively seek out the most dangerous, and therefore photo-worthy, situations would in her be unethical and a heavy burden to carry. Reuters however, seemed to not take these considerations so seriously with accusations coming from news outlets like The Guardian that Reuters chosen to hire local freelancers because it is so significantly cheaper compared with expensive trained outsiders, and with so many photos shot, coming back to Frost’s point, one or two good photos are guaranteed.
In all this remains the issue of value, and can professional photographers convince the world of this value. Value is a hard concept, how long after graduation do you stop doing portfolio boosting discount, or freebie work? How can you teach people that the value of a photo isn’t in the paper it’s printed on, but on the technical composition? Being a professional photographer,and calling yourself such, is much more than a portfolio collection of high quality photos. It is running a professional business and conducting yourself be it at a wedding or in a war zone in a professional and adept way, but how can a professional photographer convey this to a suspicious and hostile potential client? In short, how do you educate clients without preaching at them?