Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm not a real photographer but I play one on TV

Can good photography come from part-time dedication? That's the question raised by Hin Chua in his recent post on insig.ht. Chua's approach is to look at photographers who've photographed their own work environment. By definition, these folks have non-photographic professions and so they're unable to devote all their energy to photography. As shown in the post, many of them are quite proficient photographers. So it is possible.

That said, I tend to think of successful hobbyists as counterexamples to the general rule. I think the highest achieving photography is generally the result of fulltime devotion. To use Hurn and Jay's words as quoted by Chua:
The fact is that photographers at the highest level have committed themselves to continuous and dedicated practice. Fierce single-mindedness and self-motivation are essential. It is very, very rare to find a part-time photographer in the front ranks."

This doesn't mean one needs to be a professional photographer to do good work. In fact I'd argue that most of the interesting work being done nowadays is shot in an amateur context. But amateur or not, to achieve at a high level you should probably be eating, sleeping, and breathing photography. You don't see part-time athletes make it to the Olympics. Why should part-time photographers expect their fate to be different?

While it's difficult for part-time photographers to achieve excellence there is one short-cut for them to achieve recognition, and that is to be a celebrity in another field. There are numerous actors and musicians who pursue photography as a side hobby. A few of them are quite good. More often they're not. In any case, the quality of the material doesn't seem to have much effect on its marketability. Celebrity sells, and the photobook section of most bookstores is awash in celebrity titles.

How well do you know your celebrity photographers? Below are ten anonymous photographs by well known actors and musicians, all of whom are published photobook authors. The person who first identifies the most correct photographers wins a free print and a copy of the book Starstruck by celebrity stalker/photographer Gary Lee Boas.

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16 comments:

Stan B. said...

"It is very, very rare to find a part-time photographer in the front ranks."

Not exactly revelatory, is it- as your pro athlete analogy well points out... Anyway, FWIW- here's my latest on the celebrity gossip circuit:

Definitely:
6) Leonard Nimoy
8) Jeff Bridges
10) Diane Keaton (from her truly excellent Reservations monograph)

Maybe:
3) Viggo Mortensen
5) Big Lou

Anyone recall when Shirley McLaine played a pro photographer on a weekly TV show in early '70s?

Blake Andrews said...

Nice work, Stan. All five guesses are right.

I never saw the McLaine show. Was it any good?

LUC RABAEY said...

Maybe
1) Wim Wenders

Stan B. said...

Awful.

Blake Andrews said...

Sorry, #1 isn't Wim Wenders.

The Only Hell My Momma Ever Raised said...

#1 Dennis Hopper.

Ulrich said...

"I think the highest achieving photography is generally the result of fulltime devotion."

That very much depands on what 'high achievement' means. Earnings? Recognition? Prizes? I guess these are the 'achievements' you refer to.

Some photographs (not photographers) really need a lot of 'devotion' to reach some of the achievements they have reached. Others never reach any achievements simply because no 'devotion' was put into marketing.

I guess, what I really want to say is that this view of Hin Chua is pointless in my eyes.

K. Praslowicz said...

I think Kenny Rogers & Louis CK are the only celebrities I know to be photographers.

As to knowing any of their work..fail on my part.

beatriz said...

I'm with Ulrich...who knows about "excellence and achievement"? For example, it seems like there are "lunch break" photographers in NYC...capturing a trophy in 15 minutes on the street. The practice and demands of photography are culturally driven...all the prize winners would not mean anything to people from other cultures. I had a temp job cutting vegetables for restaurants; as the business was located in an industrial part of town, i occasionally saw "risk taking" photographers walking by and thought "a privileged person with leisure time."
All the posted photos look like David Lynch, except the last by Diane Keaton :))
Like any artist, it is about one's life work....the long story tells the story.

Blake Andrews said...

I probably should've explained better what I meant by "high achievement". I actually was thinking of it in terms of raw artistic excellence and not by normal measures of success like recognition or sales, etc. Sometimes the two are related but I think very often they don't have much to do with each other. The recognition that celebrity photography receives is just one example of that discontinuity, and I think the contemporary photo world contains many other examples.

How you measure artistic excellence is of course a loaded question. But I think generally it comes from fulltime devotion and not dilettantism.

#1 is indeed Dennis Hopper.

Alex M said...

# 2 Richard Gere ?

Ulrich said...

"I think generally it (artistic excellence) comes
from fulltime devotion and not dilettantism."

To me this only states the obvious: Generally the more practice the better. Sorry to insist by asking about the point of this.

But on a side note: I like how you point out with your blog post how hard it is to draw a line between dilettantism and fulltime devotion, for me, that is. I guess I need to be fully devoted instead of being strictly dilettante to see this line at all sometimes ;-)

Blake Andrews said...

Yes, #2 is Richard Gere.

You're right, Ulrich, the line between devotion and dilletantism isn't a hard break but more of a gradation.

Blake Andrews said...

Comments have been dormant for a few days so I'll assume folks have stopped guessing. Here are the answers:

1. Dennis Hopper
2. Richard Gere
3. Viggo Mortensen
4. Andy Summers
5. Lou Reed
6. Leonard Nimoy
7. Graham Nash
8. Jeff Bridges
9. Jessica Lange
10. Diane Keaton

Congrats to Stan B. for identifying the most correct answers. Email me your address, Stan, and prepare to receive your fabulous gifts and prizes.

Ben said...

Hey, talent is talent full-time or not but I agree that full-time effort increases your chance of getting seen. I've always thought Jeff Bridges' pictures were interesting. I see others there that I like. (I think Vigo's stuff is crap.) I guess the point is would I have seen Bridges' images if he were not an actor? Good question.

Ellen Rennard Photography said...

That seems crazy to me. Look at all the outstanding writers who were not full time writers, at least not to start with, and some never. For instance, William Carlos Williams was a poet and also a doctor. For most mortals, fine art photography can only be full time with a pocketful of money acquired some other way. Commercial photography isn't the same as personal fine art work, and it gets in the way for some artists (if you ask me). I guess I'd better read what Hin Chua wrote. But I'll take being not in the front ranks if it means I can photograph what I want, when I want, how I want, even if it means I have to make a living some other way.