Take My Picture, Human!

Say Cheese!Back to the old—and also new—professional versus amateur debate, this time in the context of photojournalism, but applicable to so many aspects of this brave new e-world. Yesterday's Editors Weblog article titled Photojournalists to disappear in light of Flickr? discusses the inevitability of unemployed photojournalists due to new media techniques in the hands of the public. The underlying question is whether—or to some folks, when—the ready availability of non-professional visual content will remove the need for professional photographers. It's the now-familiar professional journalist/citizen journalist question applied to photography.

Although it's impossible to argue with the article's time will tell conclusion, I'm still a bit confused by all the anxiety over the idea that an amateur product can simply replace the professional equivalent, regardless of the medium in question. In the context of photography, it's always been possible for Joe Citizen to go out and buy exactly the same equipment used by his professional counterpart. Expensive, but possible nonetheless. But this doesn't mean Joe suddenly began taking Pulitzer-winning photographs; it only means he wasn't limited by the hardware. The playing field was leveled, but that's all.

Technology, whether applied to cameras or Web sites, provides opportunity. A college education provides opportunity, too, but it's also possible to be educated beyond one's intelligence, or creativity, or simply beyond the desire to make effective use of that education. Photography and writing exist under the common metalabel of communication, but effective communication is no more guaranteed by Nikon than it is by Movable Type.

If photojournalists lose their jobs, I think it will be for the same reason that threatens to put most of us out of work, if it hasn't already. It's those wonderful, infernal silicon slaves that work 24/7 and seem quite content to do so. If the slaves happen to be configured as cameras, and are, at some point, literally blanketing the planet, what need is there of human fingers? To press the electronic shutter release, perhaps?

In the meantime, amateur photography—like amateur journalism—is interesting, sometimes, and even compelling. But short of a sudden universal clamoring for snapshots, I don't expect it will take over the pages of National Geographic anytime soon.


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