Its a strange time for photography. There’s so much change going on. No, its ok, this isn’t going to be another moan about the state of the business and how hard it is….I actually see that its an incredibly exciting time.
So the medium is “democratised” now...everyone has a smart phone and everyone takes pictures all the time. The reflex to photograph everything used to be the province of the xenophobic legend, the comedy-style Japanese or American tourists in any european city, and the cliched forum for the holiday snap would be the narcotically self-absorbed slideshows of the over 50’s, yawning after dinner as we re-visit another holiday.
And now there’s so many people documenting their lives, making pictures for the sheer joy of it...everyone has a project and a place to share it. And it is joy! Love and enthusiasm for the medium couldn’t be stronger…and everyone is a photographer
So it can seem hard to justify my day rate - "what you expect me to PAY you to do this?!". After all, why would you pay a guy to come and do what you can do with your phone. We’re all photographers, right? And with digital kit, it's hardly a skill anymore.
And yet, professional photography still exists and persists. And we still get commissions. Is there more to it?
I often think of a an old Chinese tale about some Emperor or another who, in his yearning to leave a legacy of the world’s greatest art, scoured the land for the greatest artist there was. The artist was brought to him and the Emperor asked him how long it would take him to paint the most beautiful butterfly...ever.
“About twenty years.” replied the artist.
He was given brushes, paint, the finest materials...housed and presumably given a chunky salary (I’m making this bit up...you’d hope so though) and the artist spent the next twenty years living it. Nice.
So at the end of twenty years, the Emperor calls the artist to him and demands to see this, the greatest image of natural beauty that had ever been made.
“It isn’t finished,” said the artist.
“Well can I see what you’ve done so far?” asked the Emperor.
“There’s nothing to see.” said the artist.The executioner chanced a chagrinous grin and pulled his black hood from his pocket.
“WHAT?!” cries the Emperor “I WANT MY BUTTERFLY!!”
“Ok,” says the artist, “Bring me paints and canvas and I’ll do it now.”
So he paints, and in five minutes he has produced the most beguilingly, eye-poppingly beautiful picture of a butterfly...an image of utter breath-taking perfection.
While the whole court sighed with awe, the executioner sighed with disappointment. Perhaps too soon…
“Why oh why didn’t you paint like that for me twenty years ago?” asks the Emperor, almost apoplectic with confusion and rage.
Equally but differently apoplectic, the artist stammeringly explained, “Well, it took me twenty years hard work to learn how to do that….anyway, I think it could be better...the left wing is slightly wrong...I might start again...now if I….”
I think of that every time I feel the urge to justify my day rate.