The real story behind the evolution of photography is its pauperization.
In its early days, photography was for the wealthy and educated. The equipment needed was expensive and the skills involved needed formal education. Furthermore, the financial risks involved in being a photographer – variable income- meant you had to have some other resources.
Even if they weren’t rich themselves, they were rich kids. And for a long time, it remained unchanged. Until rather recently when colliding advancement in technology – all pretty much unrelated to photography- open the door to lesser financially fortunate people from around the world.
– The internet, at first, made all the connections possible. It took a while to grow, mostly due to the cost of computers and connections but now, almost anywhere in the world, it’s dirt cheap.
– The dropping cost of memory, making it much cheaper to shoot digital then film.
– The cheap accessibility to market. What photo sharing companies like Flickr did, unintentionally, is connect buyers with new sellers.
-The incredibly low learning curve. No need to know anything about photography to be able to take amazing images these days: Instagram will do it for you.
Finally, automated translation has practically eliminated language barriers all over the world.
The result ? First in developed countries and then very quickly in less developed countries, more and more individuals took to their cameras as a new or additional source of income. Most pushed by a desperate need to generate income rather than an urge to express any artistic impulse. Because of their already low level of income, any revenue is good revenue. Clearly visible in microstock ( the extreme majority of participants are from emerging countries with low per capita) it is now spreading to non commercial stock areas of photography like news. They will happily accept any payment regardless if it is a fair price or not. Some publishers and photo agencies have realized the saving potential and have blissfully tap into this cheaper market.
Obviously, photographers living in developed countries, like the Western Hemisphere, have to face much high cost of living and cannot compete. Thus, they have to retreat in areas not available to rest of the world. For example, a US sport photographer can still command higher fees since his coverage cannot be done from another country. However, he is slowly being pressured downward by his local peers who have been pushed out of their market by cheaper competition.
The barriers of entry have fallen at such level that almost anyone can now pretend to be a photographer. With rising unemployment worldwide, more are stepping in the hope to generate some income, pushing aside established professional. Since in a depressed economy like ours the key differentiator is money, it’s the cheapest that wins the day.
In order for the situation to change, a few things would need to happen. First, obviously, the worldwide economy has to pick up, eliminating those who are necessity photographers by integrating them into other full time jobs. A more advanced type of photography should emerge, necessitating advanced skills to perform. Finally, a disassociation of the means of communication, wether technological or cultural. None seem likely to happen soon.
About the author
This business has too many Surveyors and not enough Bohemians” Roger Therond, legendary photo man, once said to a good friend of mine, Eliane Laffont. This blog is about restoring the balance and letting the Bohemians talk.
Paul Melcher has been named one of the “50 most influential individuals in American photography” by American Photo. He is currently senior vice president of the PictureGroup. He writes the Thoughts of a Bohemian blog