Mar 02 2013

Are you a photographer or do you just ‘take photos’?

Spider web - The Farm June 2012If you don’t already know – I’m a photographer.

Most people think that means I take photos for a living, but that’s not true. I take photos because I love it. To make a living I have to sell the photos.

And that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Unlike the days of film, everybody has a camera these days, and everybody thinks they’re a photographer. Sort of like Descartes “I take photos therefore I am .. a photographer.” This is even more ubiquitous than the “I am in a photo therefore I am” school, usually populated by teenage girls but now being taken over by teenage boys.

I take some of my photos to markets to sell. They’re panoramas of Australia and Australian life, printed on canvas. Generally I enjoy being at markets, but it can be both difficult and rewarding.

Dragonfly - The Newey Cobar April 2012Rewarding because of the many “wow” moments I get. This is when somebody first looks at the display of photos, their eyes widen, their jaw drops and all they can say is “Wow”.  I don’t like to brag (ok, yes, I do), but this happens at least a couple of times at every market.

On the other hand it’s difficult because of all those people who walk up, check out the photos as if they’re art critics, turn around and say “I take photos too”. Note the action, not the identification. It’s “I take photos”, not “I’m a photographer”. And therein lies the difference – this is what I do sometimes, not who I am.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with “taking photos”. For many, many years I “took photos” before I identified as “a photographer”.  “Taking photos” is what helped me to hone my craft, to learn what works and what doesn’t, and, importantly, what I like and what I don’t. While I was doing this I worked other jobs to pay for my ‘hobby’. Then I realized I didn’t really like the other jobs, all they were doing was taking time away from photography. So I gave up the high salary, and concentrated on what I really love, and what – if I do say so myself – I’m very good at.

Shearers quarters door - The Farm June 2012The main trouble with the “I take photos” people is the disparaging tone they say it in. As if what I’ve done is not particularly skilled – that anybody with an expensive camera can do the same thing. But just as owning a fountain pen doesn’t make you a great writer, owning a Nikon doesn’t make you a photographer. They conveniently ignore the fact that their photos don’t look like mine. Not just because they haven’t travelled to the same places (I do a lot of Australian landscapes), but because they don’t look at things the same way.

Farmgate---The-Murrumbidgee-June-2012As one person said at my most recent market “Those photos look like they could be taken in my backyard. I have all those things, but I would never have thought to take photos of them. That’s just a rickety old fence [pointing to one photo], but that photo is amazing.”  And yes – he did buy the photo.

My daughter (the outdoorsy one) has helped me out at a few markets. The group of people she particularly dislikes are the budding photographers. The ones who are getting ideas for their own photos. I don’t mind those so much. I’m always happy to share my experiences with anybody who wants to learn, and to learn from them at the same time.  It doesn’t matter how young and inexperienced you are, if you have a photographer’s eye you always have something to teach somebody else.

So if you do see me at a local market please come up and say hello. You don’t need to buy any of the photos (although it helps to pay my bills), just let me know if you like them. I’m always happy to have a chat, and to hear from you about what you like.

Permanent link to this article: http://kathswinbourne.com.au/are-you-a-photographer-or-do-you-just-take-photos/

2 comments

  1. That’s a very thought-provoking post. I have always been proud of my amateur photographer status – but I’d never describe myself as a person who just takes photos. I guess that puts me somewhere in the middle! Good on you for following your dream and turning it into an achievement you can be proud of!

    1. For me it’s not about ‘professional’ versus ‘amateur’, but more ‘I take photos’ or ‘I’m a photographer. I note you still describe yourself as a photographer. And I must say I’ve seen some fabulous shots taken by amateur photographers that could stand alongside anything taken by professionals.

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