“Who Needs Photographers Anymore?” Part 1: Photography Is Losing Its Value

Documentary Work-4

This article is the first in a series that I will be writing as I study Photojournalism & Documentary Photography. These are the two genres of photography that I am most passionate about—and have subsequently dedicated my time to practicing for the past several years. As photographers, I believe it’s very important for us to “dabble” in all the areas of photography that we find interesting. In my 20 years with a camera, I’ve practiced portrait, commercial, landscape, product, stock, food, wedding, sports, & editorial photography. I find the most meaning when practicing documentary photography—it’s where I’ve placed my flag and set up camp. This writing is a distillation of the thoughts I’ve had & lessons that I’ve learned while studying other documentary photographers, photojournalists, the history of the two genres, and the future these two fields.

“Who Needs Photographers Anymore?”

Part 1: Photography Is Losing Its Value

Canon Film-5

I was at a family gathering recently when the topic of the new iPhone came into conversation. Almost simultaneously, everyone at the table grabbed their phones and started googling the specs of the upcoming Version 11.

“It has like 3 cameras and lenses!” 

“Tim, what is a telephoto lens?”

I rolled my eyes and fidgeted with the 35mm SLR that was hanging around my neck. I too have managed to cram a few different lenses into my skinny jeans. As everyone at the table reads on about the latest piece of tech, I reach into my pocket and swap out a 50mm for an 85—then begin making portraits of Parker, the newest edition to the family.

“Yeah” I say sarcastically, “Who needs photographers anymore.”

Canon Film-9

Canon Film-10

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Photography Is Losing Its Value

The Golden Era Of Photojournalism

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander & observe, and my camera is my passport.” — Steve McCurry

Back when Newspapers & Magazines roamed the earth like huge paper mâché behemoths—skilled artists known as Photographers were hired and sent into faraway lands. In a time before the internet and smartphones—their job was to document history on film. Often working under harsh conditions, they somehow performed their craft and found a way to return their negatives to editors while the story was still relevant.

These photographers were master storytellers & made images that stood the test of time.

This was the golden era of photojournalism.

Migrant-Mother_DoratheaLange
“Migrant Mother” – Photo By Dorathea Lange – Circa 1936. One of the most iconic photos of the 20th century, this image helped raise awareness for impoverished farmers during the great depression. Lange made this photograph in Nipomo, California while employed by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) program.
Robert-Capa-Ddayinvasion
D-Day Invasion – Photo By Robert Capa – Circa 1944. On the day of the Normandy invasion, Robert Capa was one of 4 credentialed U.S. photographers who landed on the beaches. Capa, along with fellow U.S. soldiers—waded to shore with 3 cameras around his neck. In the midst of the chaos——dodging gunfire, watching men around him shot, bombed, and set on fire—he was able to capture some of the most iconic photographs of the 2nd world war.
Civil-Rights-Dog-Bite_Billhudson
Civil Rights Era Dog Bite – Photo by Bill Hudson – Circa 1967. This photo is a perfect example of how a single image can change the course of history. Originally published on the cover of The New York Times before spreading across the country through other news outlets—this iconic image helped turn public opinion in favor of the Civil Rights Movement.

FlowerChild-Marc-Riboud
Flower Child – Photo By Marc Riboud – Circa 1967. Originally published in Life Magazine, this photo helped change the public perception of the Vietnam war.

Enter The Digital Age

With the rise of the internet & digital photography—traditional publications opted to cut costs by firing all the artists. (I wonder if there’s a correlation between this & falling media approval).

In 2013 the Chicago Sun-Times fired it’s entire photography staff in one day. The trend continued as reporters around the nation were given smartphones and tasked with two jobs—writer & photographer.

Yeah, who needs photographers anymore?

ChicagoSunTimesCoverComparison
The Tumblr blog “Sun Times/Dark Times” was started by members of the Chicago Sun Times photo staff that were laid off. They share hilarious side by side comparisons of the Times and their competitors after the photographers were replaced by reporters with iPhones.

There’s A New Competitor

“Seventy Five Dollars!? I’ll just take the photos with my phone.”

I hear this and similar scenarios from my photographer friends who are starting to see the falling value of their craft.

Documentary Work-22

As working photographers, we’re all aware of the oversaturated market. Photography is already a staggeringly competitive field. Not to mention the countless number of folks who “just bought a camera & are starting a business“.

In fact, for the low price of only $25, they will do a 16 hour photoshoot, deliver 3000 RAW images, and throw in their camera too.

WAIDWML Book--32

First digital cameras became affordable and intuitive, allowing anyone to become a professional overnight. Now as technology advances—we’re faced with a new competitor—your average guy/girl & their cell phone. 

“There’s no need to hire an artist when you have like 3 cameras & lenses in one device—what does a photographer do that I can’t do with my phone?”

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Yeah, who needs photographers anymore?

Double Tap & Move On

The reality is—as a society, we’re becoming accustomed to crappy photos.

There’s a crappy, uninspiring cell phone picture on the front page of your local newspaper.

As you sift through 350 million images posted daily on facebook—you become numb to the low quality.

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Almost everyone’s life is being documented through crappy phone photos. Who cares if your images look dark, muddy, pixelated, and washed out—everyone’s do.

With the flood of images posted daily to facebook, instagram, and snapchat—it’s becoming more and more difficult to stick out as a photographer.

Our society is inundated by images on a daily basis.

If by some chance you do see a powerful image—double tap and move on.

So Who Needs Photographers Anymore?

This blog will continue with Part 2: “Photography Needs Photographers”.
Thank you for reading. 

-Tim

4 Comments

  1. This is an interesting theme.
    I’m not a photographer with a 20 years long experience, I just started using digital (yes digital was my first camera) some 11-12 years before and went this long way of self-teaching, still, learn every single day by myself, make my personal projects and even sometimes ppl hire me to shoot for them. But like one who passed this long way, I also feel this contempt to the real photography – documentary and. storytelling. But, even these days many friends, some of them are very young and as you said they use their phones for the tons of shit they photograph every day, they ask me how do I develop my film, and how to learn the process and part of them are really understand where the real gem. I hope that these ppl asking me – they are the future.
    About the prices, I was sure that the only we are in Israel are the victims of the reality photographed with the smartphones almost for free or absolutely for free. Now i understand that this is the whole world’s tendency and this scares me like hell.
    Will wait for the PART ii
    Victor

    Liked by 1 person

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