What Makes Someone a Photographer?

by | Jun 30, 2021

Today’s Introspection by Joe Farace

My definition of what makes someone a photographer is simple: A photographer is a person who makes photographs.

Or is it? That definition doesn’t include the woman who jumped out of her SUV this morning at the post office’s drive-up mailbox to take a picture of mail pickup times with her cell phone. She’s not a photographer, she was taking a picture…for reference probably.

I’ve been a photographer since I was eight year old when my parents gave me a Kodak box camera and I immediately set out, driven by some unknown forces, to document my neighborhood starting with a photograph of a flag. I became a professional photographer when somebody first paid me money to make pictures but was the quality of the photographs I created any better than the images I made the day before I cashed that check. I don’t think so.

That was one of the reasons I started taking photography classes at the Maryland Institute, College of Art when I lived in Baltimore. Of all the driving forces in my decision to go to that particular school was to answer a nagging question that rattled around my skull: Was I really any good at this photography stuff or was I just another wannabe. These classes immensely improved the technical and craft aspects of my photography and the intellectual stimulation of being around like-minded people attempting the same thing along with challenging assignments caused me, for the first time, to actually think about the photographs I was making. It is no exaggeration to say that attending this school changed my life. In most ways it changed it for the better, but not in all ways as I later found it. (I have occasionally hinted about the latter in this blog and some day—it was in my stillborn book—I’ll share that story with you.) But this process and the discipline it imposed improved my photography still comes back to my basic premise: I became a better photographer, mostly, because I was making photographs.

Am I a great photographer? I don’t consider myself to be one but what I do think is that I’m a better photographer than I was just a few years ago. I look at images I made ten years ago and some of my choices make me cringe. But I constantly strive to improve my skills and vision and and am inspired by the creativity of my friends like Cliff Lawson, Jamie Zartman, Todd Abbotts and Barry Staver. The quality of their work challenges me to become a better photographer.

On the other hand, what doesn‘t make someone a photographer? Here’s my highly opinionated thoughts on that subject:

    • You don’t become a photographer by reading about photography. But by learning about the history and craft of photography and putting what you learn into practice and making new images will make you a better photographer.
    • You don’t become a photographer by writing about photography and while the process might improve your writing skills it won’t necessarily improve your photography unless the process encourages you to actually create some photographs.
    • You don’t become a photographer by talking about photography while sitting behind a desk and speaking into a microphone like Ron Burgundy. It might make you an engaging conversationalist but you gotta click the shutter not just your teeth.

I would like to encourage you to go out and shoot some photographs today. That’s what I plan to do all the while keeping in mind this blog’s motto: Have fun with your photography.

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