Are You A "Real" Photographer


PBS recently aired a short interview with Ken Van Sickle where he briefly spoke about his career and what has happened now that technology has improved the accessibility of photography. 

There has been some speculation and debate on what the word "photographer" means, it's by no means a new discussion. 

A GOOD Daguerreotypist is by no means a mere machine following a certain set of fixed rules. Success in this art requires personal skill and artistic taste to a much greater degree than the unthinking public generally imagine; in fact more than is imagined by nine-tenths of the Daguerreotypists themselves. And we see as a natural result, that while the business numbers its thousands of votaries, but few rise to any degree of eminence. It is because they look upon their business as a mere mechanical operation, and having no aim or pride beyond the earning of their daily bread, they calculate what will be a fiar per centage on the cost of their plate, case, and chemicals, leaving MIND, which is as much CAPITAL as anything else (where it is exercised,) entirely out of the question.
— E. Anthony - In a letter to Henry Snelling, 1849

This no-true-Scotsman approach to photography is quite prevalent. However, the distinction of who is or is not a photographer is clear, but useless.

What Is A Photographer?

Pentax Program Super 50mm f/2 Kodak TRI-X 400

A Photographer is an individual who creates photographs.

  • It does not mean they are professionals

  • It does not mean they are artists

  • It does not mean they only use "proper" cameras or expensive equipment

An individual working in a studio with a plethora of lights and beautiful models is a photographer just as much as someone snapping a quick photo of a particularly delectable lunch for Instagram.

There is a tendency to attach unnecessary baggage to the word 'photographer.' The word is utilitarian, it has a simple description. While it may invoke particular ideas or stereotypes, that is not how it should be defined. I understand that there is a sense of pride to stand up and declare "I am a Photographer!" That should be from the knowledge of the time and effort you have put into your own creations, not because the title has any exclusive meaning. 

Note how Anthony and Ken both have to describe elements of the quality of the photographer, not whether an individual is a photographer. When one is described as a photographer, you can assume they create photographs- no more, no less. 

Besides, why continue the debate of whether this person or that is a "real" photographer when you could just be out shooting and focusing on your own work?