Awhile back, I was fortunate enough to have one of my images included in a gallery exhibition of photography. I attended the opening reception and enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with the guests and some of the other photographers. One detail from one conversation with one of the other photographers stands out, however. We were chatting about the exhibition, and his first question to me was not about the nature of my work, or my approach to photography, or anything else of a substantive nature, but rather – “so, are you one of the part-timers?”
Naturally, I wanted to smack him.
Obviously, he was referencing the fact that some photographers make photography their full-time profession, while others pursue it in varying degrees of part-time basis. In this exhibition, there were a number of photographers of both kinds represented (though all were juried in based on the merit of their work by an independent and impartial juror). I am in the latter group – I have a full-time job unrelated to photography, and my practice of photography works around that.
The reason I wanted to smack him is because his question was a veiled insinuation that those who do not pursue photography on a full-time basis are inferior in some way to those who do.
Now, I have nothing but respect for those who pursue photography as full-time professionals. It’s a very difficult way to make a living, and requires an above-average commitment of time and sacrifice to sustain. Moreover, I’ve been acquainted with a number of full-time professionals who are simply lovely people, a pleasure to know both as photographers and human beings.
But then, those are the kinds of people who don’t sling around veiled insults at others.
The issue I have with photographers of the kind who asked me if I was a part-timer is that they carry around a sense of unjustified entitlement. Naturally, they’ve committed a fair amount of time and resources to being a full-time professional. The same can be said of those who get a degree in photography.
However, it’s a mistake to equate time invested in a pursuit with the achievement of excellent results in that pursuit. Often, the two really are correlated – many who are practicing professionals or have formal degrees in photography do in fact produce excellent work. But there also are many professional or credentialed photographers who produce nothing better than average work. And the converse is true as well. While many untrained and amateur photographers produce nothing better than average work, there are many untrained and amateur photographers who produce simply excellent work.
One of the great virtues of photography, and art in general, is that the measure of excellence is in the work alone, not in the path taken to get there. Images should be judged on the basis of their merits, not on the backgrounds of their creators. Art is a meritocracy, or at least it should be. If you think the credentials of the person who made the work are more important than the qualities of the work itself, then you’re an elitist. Prepare to be smacked.