There is no programme, no set of rules, no agreed approach, no Holy Grail, no magic answer in either book, workshop or in fact any form to avoid photographic extinction. However, the old ways have gone and they are not coming back. Let me repeat that in a slightly different way, the old ways are not returning.
I say this in response to those who still think they will return, and unbelievably there are many. Too many in my opinion because the facts are clear, and easy to understand. Those that will not address the issues must be doing so deliberately, it has to be a conscious decision. I understand that many will feel that the reality of the current professional photographic environment may be too hard to deal with, but there is no need to be negative regarding the future in my opinion.
The future is now and we have to accept that. The traditional clients are disappearing just as budgets are diminishing. Where once the tear sheet book was essential today personal work is the basis of any successful photographic practice. But the question photographers need to be asking themselves is “where do I fit?”
That can be an uncomfortable question to answer at the best of times, but in today’s economic climate it is particularly challenging. The issue of course is that to identify your place you need to ensure that you have a place, that you are still relevant, and that relevance comes from a willingness to change and adapt.
You may not understand work you see or agree with where photography is going or how it is getting there, but you have to be aware of the why behind that work, and the evolution of the industry to identify your relevance to it today.
Where you fit is one consideration, but seeing where your work should be placed is arguably more important. Tangential thinking is often useful with this, the obvious may provide a short-term answer, but it will rarely provide you with maximum opportunities.
I recently overheard some photographers commenting that there was no marketplace for another photographer’s work. I interrupted their conversation and suggested potential clients for the work, and explained that the work they were discussing was actually a contemporary approach to making work relevant to client needs. They thought for a while, and stated that although they had not seen what I had seen in the work my suggestions made sense. They could have come to the same conclusions as me, but they were perceiving the work within outdated frameworks.
Continuing with silo definitions related to photography such as editorial, advertising, art, design group or above and below the line work demonstrates a lack of awareness of the new frontier-less landscape. My positivity is based on an acceptance of this new situation.
Old labels are no longer relevant and therefore to continue using them prevents progress and relevance. I can’t make photographers understand stand this, but maybe fellow photographers can. I know of many mature photographers who have successfully embraced this rejection of old labels, and I know of many successful young photographers who have no knowledge of them or need for them. Perhaps it is time for photographers who find themselves unable to move into the now, to widen their social circle amongst their colleagues, photographers and clients, and start talking about new ways of thinking. It is time to avoid labels and silos and embrace the idea of the photographer as a multi-skilled practitioner, visual problem solver and storyteller based upon who they are rather than what the industry was and wanted.
There is no programme as such, but there is a way of moving with the changes rather than arguing against them or denying their existence. The professional photographers mindset today must be fluid, and open to listening to uncomfortable truths. If those come from fellow photographers perhaps they may be more palatable. Either way adopting a ‘that was then, and it is still’ mentality can only lead to becoming a dinosaur in an evolving environment. There is no time to put off the inevitable, just ask your local friendly Tyrannosaurus Rex!
Dr. Grant Scott is the the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com
© Grant Scott 2022