Both in email discussions and on the web, I spend a non-trivial amount of time advising people on what cameras and lenses would be best for them. I firmly believe that the right camera for the job is highly dependent on the job, and I start out these discussions by asking
- What gear do you have now?
- Show me some images that you’ve made that you like.
- What are you thinking about getting?
- Show me some images that you’ve made that are similar to what you’d like to make with your new gear, but that are unsatisfying to you because of deficiencies in your old gear.
As an aside, it is remarkable to me how difficult it is to get people to show me the two sets of pictures.
In the middle of one of these discussions, I recently had this exchange on the ‘net.
Me: Cameras are tools to make photographs. The best tool for the job depends on the job.
Him: That’s just a cliché.
Me: Nonetheless true, and more honored in the breach than the observance in this forum.
Him: It’s just nonsense for those who have photography as hobby. It is a tool for a pro, if it pays the rent, but for a hobby photographer the camera is a toy to play with and to exercise a HOBBY with.
The implication seems to be that hobbyists are unserious about image-making. That doesn’t seem right to me. I’m going to explore that here. But first, a digression. The word “hobby” isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I think about my relationship to photography. I checked the definition:
I don’t get paid for my photographs. I do it for the love of it. I am passionate about photography, and I am dedicated in my pursuit of it. Some people think the word “amateur” connotes a lack of expertise and commitment. That word rests easy on my head. However, the word “hobbyist” does not. Nevertheless, the denotative part of the definition fits, and in this context, there is little difference between the words “hobbyist” and “amateur”.
Photography is indeed my hobby. I’ll just have to make my peace with it. But I am dead serious about making images. I work at photography nearly every day. I work is series that span two to four years. I exhibit images. I have a web site with galleries. I have published an offset-printed book. I give images to people who make contributions to charities that I favor (I do this in preference to selling the images, since I don’t need the small amount of money that I would make through sales).
I’ve done photography for money. Now I do it for nothing but the love of it. If anything I am more serious about what I do for free than what I used to do for – admittedly, not much – money.
Most of the local photographers I know don’t make their living through photography, although they may sell prints from time to time. I’d guess I’ve spent time with a couple of hundred photographers through the two local organizations to which I belong: ImageMakers and the Center for Photographic Art. Of those, a couple of dozen make their living through photography. The rest are amateurs, or – though many, like me, would bridle at the word – hobbyists. As a group, the people who make images for the love of it are no less passionate and dedicated than those who put bread on the table through their photography.
Is the universe of amateur photographers who participate in Internet fora dramatically different from the group that I know in the real world? I’m sure some differences exist. You have to apply to ImageMakers, and acceptance is dependent on your photographic chops. Anybody can join the CPA, but signing up requires an interest in some aspect of photographic art. But I’m having trouble thinking that the Internet world is turned upside down. Are the ‘net denizens as a group more interested in playing with shiny toys than in making images? I guess it’s possible, but I find the thought depressing.