Meet Joe. Joe is a painter. He’s had one beginning painting class he was able to take during his intense Physical Therapy degree. He’s been using the same medium grade brushes for a while now (using them as long as he possibly can before they break down), and he doesn’t have all the latest art supplies. He does find time to paint at least once a week, thoroughly enjoying the hobby he loves. In some of his spare time he reads art blogs and borrows painting books from the library to learn new techniques. He keeps some of his art, he gives some to family as gifts, and some of it ends up in the trash. He doesn’t have aspirations to be famous or make a living off his art, he just loves the satisfaction and joy it brings him. Joe is a painter.
Meet Kim. Kim is a painter. Kim has a high degree in art, focusing specifically on oil painting and she continues to take lessons from a master painter that lives nearby. She spends multiple hours a day in front of her many easels. She has art displayed in galleries around town and has won a few awards to boot. Kim uses only the newest and nicest supplies for her paintings, and often makes her own brushes and mixes her own paints. She hopes someday to be a master painter and to have work in museums. She loves the satisfaction and joy painting brings her. Kim is a painter.
These two artists approach their art completely differently, and they both have varying intensities and aspirations, but they are both definitely painters. Yes, one is more advanced than the other, but they are both still painters. Just because one has professional aspirations and the other has hobbyist aspirations doesn’t diminish the fact that they are both artists. Art is something that can be done at any level: amateur, professional, hobbyist, first-timer, semi-professional, etc. I think in general most people would agree.
I consider myself an artist. In addition to photography I like to paint, draw, sew, and do calligraphy. I am by no means even close to being a professional in any of the mediums, but that’s not my aspiration at all. Even though I don’t have professional aspirations in art I find it fulfilling and exciting. Photography is very much an art to me and I love saying, “I am a hobbyist photographer.” That title doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve always loved photography, and I got into it more seriously when I decided to try taking nice pictures that I could turn into paintings. It’s evolved a lot since then, but photography continues to be an expression of art for me.
To further my hobby, I follow a number of photographers online, read articles, and explore books at the library. I’m a learning a great deal, but I have also discovered an attitude in the photography world that bothers me. There is so much “chatter” online regarding hobbyist photographers. Professionals are understandably trying to identify themselves to their clients as being more than just a hobbyist so as not to lose business to the rising generation of hobbyists. I’ve seen people go on tirades on Facebook and forums about how there are too many people who think they are photographers because they own a camera. Hobbyists and amateur photographers have their work put down so often that many are more timid about sharing their work because of fear of what the professionals might say.
My great grandfather was a photography hobbyist, and I personally think he was amazing. Here are three of his photographs that I love:
Professionally, my great-grandfather was a federal judge, but he spent large amounts of time doing photography. He won numerous prizes at the state fair for his photographs. My aunt went to get a print of his framed and the framer thought she had brought in a plagiarized Ansel Adams photo. He was “just” a hobbyist, but he sure had fun with photography and it was okay and accepted. We cherish these photos he took and many of us have his prints hanging on our walls.
One of the great things about photography is that you can just pick it up and then delve into as deep as you want to go. If you want to just be able to capture memories throughout life, you can do that, or if you want to be a professional with all the set up and gear, you can do that too. Many things in life take formal training, but not everything. They used an argument I’ve seen on photography discussion boards, on social networking sites, and on a few other photography blogs that goes something like this: Doctors, accountants, lawyers, cosmetologists and truck drivers all have to have certification before they can do their job and practice in their chosen field, and photographers should too. That argument makes me laugh a little. Those jobs all require certification because they can ruin someones life if they don’t know what they are doing (yes, even a cosmetologist, don’t turn up your nose). If a photographer doesn’t know what they are doing and mess up a shoot, a life isn’t ruined. Yes, it’s a bummer, but life will go on pretty much as normal. When someone plays the piano in church, most people don’t get upset at them because they haven’t had formal training in piano performance. Self-taught artists are usually not looked down on for painting without taking expensive lessons. Photography is the same way. It is another form of art, another person’s perspective on the world.
I know a lot of people are excited about photography right now and are buying fancy cameras and going out trying to make money off of it; perhaps it’s a fad, perhaps it is here to stay. Either way, it’s just fine. I can understand why professionals might be upset, but I can understand why hobbyists want to just take pictures. Photography has changed with the digital revolution, and that’s changed who can be photographers and how easy it is to take pictures. Some people want just a simple family snapshot, and some want the “official” professional studio portraits; people will generally go and find the type of photographer they are looking for.
I have other photographers in my family who are amazing and it is fun to see the different levels of interest, the different styles, and the different ideas. There are hobbyists, photography majors, professionals, etc. I love seeing everyone’s photos. We all support each other in our interest. I don’t ever feel put down by those family members that have more photography training or education than I do. It’s just fun! I’ve really come to realize that the amount of photographers out there doesn’t matter. It doesn’t lessen the art. It shows how diverse everyone is. It gives the photographer a chance to show who they are through their chosen medium.
So what about the technical aspect? Does it matter? Yes. A photographer will get better and better the more they learn about their camera and supplies, but you have to be able to couple the technical side with putting together a composition, reading your subjects, using color, etc. The technical side is just one of many sides to photography. Yes, there are people that just turn their cameras to auto and shoot away. Is that wrong? No. Does that mean they aren’t “real” photographers? No. Does shooting in auto make you incompetent? No. Does shooting on auto mean you are lazy and un-artistic and not learning? No way Jose. I’d pretty much bet that most modern professional photographers started out on auto and that they’d tell you they learned a lot about photography while still shooting in auto. Of course there are huge benefits to learning to shoot in manual, but not everyone needs to shoot in manual.
So, since I’m a hobbyist I should leave the important shoots, like weddings, to the professionals so I don’t botch it up, right? Not a chance. I love playing the piano, but just because I’m not a concert pianist doesn’t mean I have to leave all the hard and intricate songs to those who are professionals and will get the song perfectly right. I LOVE shooting weddings. I love every kind of shoot I do, but I really LOVE shooting weddings. I’m always nervous before any kind of shoot, but the times I feel the most confidence in myself are when I’m shooting a wedding. I still have a great deal to learn, don’t get me wrong. People shouldn’t be told that they can’t practice art because they’re not good enough.
I used to get defensive about being a “hobbyist” photographer, but not anymore. I’ve made the decision that I don’t want to be a high end professional photographer with a huge waiting list of clients. While that sounds flattering, it also sounds stressful and not fun at all (which is partly why I love photography). I love taking pictures for me, and I love taking pictures for other people. I find joy in the photos, and I get excited when other people find joy through my photos, but I’m perfectly fine with being a hobbyist photographer. I don’t have to have a huge list of clients to enjoy what I am doing. I loved photography before anyone ever paid me for a photo shoot. I will always love photography. If no one ever paid me again, I’d still have a blast. The joy is in taking the pictures and learning to get better. The joy is in the art. The joy is in creating.