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Just recently, I finally connected my bachelor’s degree with something that I enjoy doing, science. But 14 years have passed since the kickstart of that particular journey in my life. Not everything ran smoothly, and a deeply serious existential crisis began cooking in my mind. 2 years passed since I finally stumbled into a discipline that allowed me to have some sort of creative outlet without the need of changing my career, after all, I was enjoying the academic stuff as well.
Since high school, I remember flirting with creative fields like music, drawing, and writing. Except for the latter, I was extremely clumsy for those disciplines on the need for precise syncing between body and mind. After the first years of university, I remembered writing and started doing some for the sole purpose of having an outlet in my life. But something visual was still needed, and thanks to my mother I came across photography for the first time. Well, the second time, the first was when I was 12 and my father taught me to use his Ricoh point and shoot film camera, but I wasn’t much allowed to use it as an everyday thing.
Photography, the Saviour
So, photography was finally giving me the opportunity of creating visual pieces that made me feel a certain aesthetic relationship with the world. The exploration phase was fascinating, and I shot everything amidst the shootable possibilities. You know, the usuals, doorknobs, flowers, quotidian, and everyday found details, massive bokehs without many purposes, and of course, odd motions captured in slow shutter speed modes. This is the route pretty much any other photographers have followed when starting; it is almost a natural thing enabled by the wonders and surprises of optic capabilities.
Within that exploration phase in which one produces highly shaming work, something beautiful happened; I stumbled into street imagery, and photography finally made sense to me. But before that took place, a lot of my peers were encouraging me to drop out of school and pursue my creative dream. Maybe the lack of photography-related education in my country influenced my decision to not doing that, or it was just my stubbornness towards not dropping out of things that made me stick around. Either way, I’m glad now that I didn’t follow the well-intended advice from these folks.
I kept my foot to the ground; and as a safe move, I was certain that photography could represent a certain income, but it hadn’t to be my main way of living at that particular moment in time. Although, I wasn’t getting any younger and I had this urge of having some clarity about what I would do for a living. Social events freelance photography was a logical answer, but I simply didn’t have the needed vocation for it. Trust me, I tried doing some baptisms and weddings, I even shot prom ceremonies and birthdays, and it just didn’t feel right.
Why Does Everything have to be a Profession?
I’m sure that the social inquiry related to my passion for photography was the symptom of a deeper phenomenon affecting our lives. Asking me about how photography could make a sustainable life and demanding responses aimed towards that particular end, was just the surface of something that is still going on until this particular day. Socially, we are falling into the abyss of not being allowed to enjoy a hobby anymore. Everything we do has to fulfil a certain income-related goal, hence the professional aspect of our mundane acts. We simply can’t go jogging anymore, we need to buy specific clothes for it to be performed more efficiently. We now are wearing gadgets that count our steps, like a tragicomic allegory of our inevitable walk towards the grave. Being unaware of how many calories we have burnt during the day is shameful, and asking for beef, chicken, or pork rather than “protein” is seen as barbaric. We are nose-diving into the pit of sophistication in our daily lives so much that it feels like having countless gauges monitoring every step, every blink, every sniff, and every breath we take. And that is also seen in photography.
With smartphones so powerful, having a dedicated camera is almost immediately related to a professional thing. But what is exactly being professional, to begin with? In simple terms, any profession is a career or systematic set of activities that represent a considerable amount of the income you bring back home. Therefore, a professional photograph is simply anyone making a living with a camera, period.
Back in those aforementioned days in which I was trying to define myself, I naively believed that having a big DSLR like the big boys will eventually lead me to the realm of the pros. Now, more than a decade after those ideas started sprouting in my mind, I can tell you that the tool is almost irrelevant when it comes to creating meaningful work. Sure, the tools enable us to visually grasp our intentions in more detailed and reliable ways, but also great photographs can be made with a disposable camera as well.
My indecisions made me decide between considering myself as a professional or as an amateur, and during several years I picked the latter because it simply wasn’t my main income source. But of course, I wasn’t and I’m still no regular amateur photographer but a truly passionate one. And that’s when this particular distinction became a solid idea in my mind.
Funny thing, even cameras are perceived (and sold) as professionals, amateurs, and entry; almost like if they were designed to personification the roles of those in charge of rubbing their buttons and twisting their knobs. Such marketing strategies, genius as they might be, draw us into thinking that we need certain types of cameras and lenses to make photographs that will impact audiences and eventually become meaningful to them. And thinking like that is just absurd nonsense. No one experiencing a true aesthetic and meaningful experience with a photograph will care about the camera and lens behind the shot.
It is an Existential Crisis
Because it isn’t allowing us to enjoy things, and unless we are capable of justifying a solid business model, the professional tag simply wears off. After having some deep debates with colleagues, peers, and the most annoying critic I’ve known, myself; I came to the simple conclusion that not all professionals love doing photos and not all amateurs are really into it. Some pros do it for the income, and if you don’t trust then check out the following evidence.
COVID-19 unveiled too many things, including that the main reason why so many professional photographers were professionals is that the good money weddings give back. And it is understandable, but when something is driven by passion, one expects attitudes like the ones expressed by the resilient 18.60% of the interviewed photographers who made their choice amidst the harsh times.
Ergo, a better distinction is required nowadays when we think about photographers; and I’m happy to be considered as a passionate amateur one. Amateurs, in the finest sense of the word, are allowed to always be learning and always be surprised by the wonders and joys of the craft. The amateur category is broad and capable of receiving people from all sorts of disciplines, it is open for all passionate people to come inside and play.
Photography isn’t jealous, and I’ll explain to you why. Professionally, one could be anything and still enjoy photography to a certain degree. Several cases I’ve encountered in which photography saved people from drugs and alcohol, and a considerable amount of people have it as a serious hobby in their lives. And that doesn’t derive them from enjoying their other professional roles. Medics, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and even wall-climbers, photography is open to cope with all the professions we human beings have had and will continue to develop as time goes by.
I always try to credit this idea to Valerie Jardin, who one of her podcasts narrated how she helped a teenager to surpass a particular existential crisis in her life. She wanted to be a paediatrician, but also a photographer. Although, her parents were only able to support one of those two paths. Jardin told her, and I’m sure the kid took her advice, that even when she decides to go with the medical choice, she will always have photography in her life. But if she picked photography as an academic thing, it would be very hard for her to also enjoy being a paediatrician. Let’s face it, photography can be learned on the streets, but medical science doesn’t.
Education System is Crooked
Hacking society is hard, and upon the fearsome question asking us about “how are you going to make a living with that?”, be clear that it doesn’t matter much if you are a professional or not, but rather where you are passionate about it or not. And of course, this applies to everything in our lives; not only photography.
And speaking of every aspect of our lives, an honorable mention to education shall be made. That particular inquiry has pierced the mind of countless young people through too many years now. And the origin of it might be traced back to our global economy requiring more refined and specialized skills to run. The excessive amount of competition among us human beings makes us more distant and less empathic to others’ lives. Anthropologically speaking, being a one-man-army shouldn’t be a desired thing; however, it is. Competitiveness is only driving us towards an unhealthy process of social fragmentation and individualization, and our kids are being wired to think this way more than ever.
Schools are training people so they can fit within the demands of global capitalism, and are constantly avoiding drawing some boundaries when it comes to this. Curricula is more neoliberalist-friendly than ever, and schools are just watching the structures seizure take place. And that way of doing things is having an impact on how we relate with the world, a world which is so accelerated that is burning people out and making us sick. Even content creation is aimed towards becoming viral because otherwise is just a waste of time. And the terrible fact is that people are buying the idea that they have no value unless they can show us how relevant they are.
Despite massive alienation structuring our world, we are still not entirely lost. Regaining certain consciousness about how our creations are configuring our minds is the first step into having a less empty relationship with our world. And photography has something to give here to us. We are in front of a discipline that isn’t asking much from us, and which is willing to share us with other passions and disciplines broadly building our life stories.
Our reality has become more visually dependent than ever, and having some genuine passion towards visual creation will emancipate us from the traps like the ones the Gram tosses at our lives. Stop worrying about being a professional, and start answering yourselves if you are passionate about the images that you create. And eventually, you’ll discover the real answer to that vital question we are asking you today.
Beyond hearts and thumbs, beyond showcasing your lives to the world, true passion will make you enjoy capturing things around you.