The Rise of the Amateur Photographer
by Hanna Frazier
When Louis Daguerre made the first photograph — a daguerreotype — it took a whopping 8 hours. Due to the large equipment, long exposures, and complex development process, photographers employed patience, practice, and a lot of skill. But, in today’s media driven world, photography seems to neither require skill nor practice. The instant results of SLR, DSLR and smartphone cameras have certainly done away with a need for patience.
Today, people take multiple pictures in fractions of seconds. Modern day photographers and their subjects alike, are no doubt grateful for technological advancements; however, these advancements have not come without considerable modifications to the purpose of photography. One of the greatest of these changes, is the rise of the amateur photographer.
Before I go any further, it is important to note, that I use the term “amateur photographer” to refer to the billions of people in the world with a camera on their person 24/7 and more specifically the social media users among them who make, share and trash images at will over the Internet and www-connected cellular networks.
With expanded access has not, apparently, brought expanded variation in the types of images we see. Social media is a seemingly endless stream of pictures of foods, pets, and selfies. This is in no means an effort to degrade those who use photography in this manner, as I too am one of those users. Instead, I’d like to address here the effects that increased accessibility to photography has had on the professional photography world.
In 2012, journalist Geoff Livingston asked, “Is Instagram Ruining Photography?” The majority of the community felt that Instagram and other social media platforms were a wonderful tool to gain mass exposure for your work, and that it in no way devalued their work. Photographer Zack Sylvan offered a thoughtful response:
“Instagram is more of a shift, or an expansion of photography in my opinion.
The app has made photography more accessible and popular, but those of us who appreciate the hard work that goes into creating stories through images as opposed to a simple snapshot shouldn’t feel threatened. Creativity doesn’t come to us any easier just because we have a mobile phone. That, fortunately still takes practice and a steady hand.
Instagram is a great asset for photography and social. Pictures make people happy, so why not make them more accessible?”
Many of the professional photographers who are pro-social media believe that there is enough room for both sides of the photography spectrum to share their work. They argue that their photography will not lose its value, due to the significant and clear difference between a professional’s work and an amateur’s snapshot.
However, for every person in support of the amateur photographer’s rise, there is another who is against it. In 2013, Stuart Jeffries for the Guardian, wrote an article titled, “The death of photography: are camera phones destroying an art form?” Within the article, award-winning Mexican photographer Antonio Olmos responded to Jeffries’ question by stating:
“It’s really weird … Photography has never been so popular, but it’s getting destroyed. There have never been so many photographs taken, but photography is dying.”
I personally feel that the gap of quality between the greats of the photography world and amateurs remains too distant to be muddled with social media. However, the gap between the beginner professionals and the amateurs with a keen eye, is smaller. It is shrinking. And fast.
The jury is out as to whether the rise of the amateur photographer — the everyday photographer — will be the downfall of the professional. Of course, the discussion depends on what you see as being lost or gained in the mix that qualifies the final assessment as a downfall. Perhaps we’re in a slow slide? Perhaps the battle is already waged? Can we state for sure who is winning and losing amid these massive changes on our visual landscape?
What do you think? Do amateur photographers pose a threat to the future success of professional photography?
Livingston, G. (2012, August 14). Is Instagram Ruining Photography? Retrieved September 23, 2015
Jeffries, S. (2013, December 13). The death of photography: Are camera phones destroying an art form? Retrieved September 23, 2015