When photographers go out of business, there is no announcement on PDN. After flickering a while, they just vanish off the photo firmament, like an unknown star in the huge emptiness of the photo universe. Most will pick up another job, to be never heard about ever again. Only the biggest of the biggest stars get a royal treatment and their bankruptcy allowed to be handled with all the glory of a newspaper crashing.

2009 will certainly see a huge amount of people leaving our profession in quiet desperation. We will probably never hear about it.

Photography has its social classes, almost like a feudal society. It has its kings and knights ( in shinning armor, no less), its jesters and courtesans, and of course, a huge amounts of peasants. If you want to play in the court of the respected and approved, you have to follow some well established rules:

If you risk your life to get images, you get a huge boost. Conflict photographers are treated as heroes, regardless of the quality of their images. Because they have chosen the most dangerous  and difficult aspect of our profession, they deserve respect. It is not so much what they bring back that matters, but what they go through to get it. They even get more credential if, G~d forbid, they get wounded or killed. The path to legendary status is then almost a given.

The other way to obtain royal credentials is to gain celebrity status. Much, much harder to achieve . The best way is to be an incredible schmoozer ( def: To converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection.) Again, not important to be a good photographer here. Actually, it is completely irrelevant. It is all about who you know. The best of those do not take pictures anymore and have assistants doing it for them. No one seems to mind.

A third way is to do the same thing for a long time.  Like anything that has been around for a long, very long time, people start respecting you. Not for your talent, but for the mere fact that you have been around for so long.  Not a guaranteed path, but then, nothing is.

What is also important also, is that you do either news or documentary photography. Or commercial bordering on the “fine art”, meaning  that your images seem to carry a hidden message that no one understands. Or they are “disturbing”. Or both.

You have to make sure that  somehow, somewhere people talk about your images.

If you are a photographer with a lot of talent shooting everyday because people hire you all the time, then you are a “peasant”, a laborer. Especially if you work in the celebrity field. There are no celebrity photographer in the photography court. Although everyone will tell you that it is what sells these days, it is considered a sub art form, a dirty job, like cleaning the sewers.

Some news agencies will not touch it at all, as if it carried a deadly virus, while others will do some only to make enough money to finance news coverage. Kind of like prostitution. You would think that, as business people, they would produce what the market demands, but no. Instead more news, more documentary photography is produced, ad nauseum, rotting away on the unvisited pages of desolate websites. A crappy documentary photographer is 20 times more respected than the best red carpet photographer. Celebrity photography is completely ignored in photo festivals, trade shows , photo museums and even workshops. Like it doesn’t exist, like a family member you are ashamed off and keep locked in a closet in your basement.

When was the last time you saw a multimedia on celebrity photography produced by Mediastorm ? Or an article on PDN. or an exhibit at any photo gallery? at ICP ? or at a photo festival, like Visa or Look3 ?

No other reason than photo snobism.

It used to be editorial photographers would jump from one story to the other as long as they was an interest. News was news, whether sports, conflict, celebrity or natural disaster. They could shoot a head of state one hour and a celeb the next . With the same talent, the same intense dedication to quality. Today, photographers auto-categorize themselves in self assigned niches.  News photographer hardly talk to sports photographers. They all have their group, association, blogs, and forums.

It is fascinating how this profession has become so compartmentalized by none other than those who work in it, for no other reason than to try to declare their field so much better than the other. A good photographer is a good photographer in any situation. Actually, that’s what makes a good photographer.

so the recap, here is the gradual ladder of photography “respectionalism”:

Royalty :

– Conflict Photographer  ( the bigger the scarf around the neck, the more important. It’s like a medal of honor)

– Fine art ( The more the academic titles and the longer the list of awards, even unknown, the highest the ranking. Books, exhibits, talks are also instrumental in the height of the ranking)

Knights :

– Documentary photographers ( even one photo story on dying children in Africa will get you there. Multimedia a plus)

–  Magazine cover photographers ( although the end product is highly retouched by computer hands, those in that category envoy high privilege status)

– Corporate photographers ( taking pictures of CEO’s and Lawyer’s bring respectability)

– Commercial stock shooters ( the higher the nose is pointing, the more important)


– Sports photographers ( it’s a dirty job)

– Wedding photographers ( it’s so plebeian)

– Celebrity photographers ( its the basic laborers)

Robbers, Thieves and Low lifers:

– Paparazzi photographers ( How dare they take picture of people without their approval !!!)

– Amateurs and microstock shooters ( How dare they think they are photographers !!)

Author: pmelcher


  1. very interesting article… lots of truth in your caricature. nowadays, its all about the branding and niching… too many photographers, too few assignments.

    and if u ask me paparazzi are NOT photographers. they r jus camera -wielding thugs making lots of moola from invading privacy. do u consider a PI using a spanking Canon Mk III w 300mm f2.8 a photographer? cool gear, yes, but i dont tink so.

  2. Author

    The gear doesn’t make the photographer.

    Don’t news and documentary photographers also invade privacy ? Or is that ok because it is in Africa or Afghanistan and not in Hollywood ? Do Some privacy need more respect than others? Not sure I understand your point.

  3. I’m kind of sad that because I’ve tried micro stock and am inherently an amateur I’m classed as some sort of low life scum by some sort of elite upper class.

    In two years of trying to learn to take a photograph I’ve seen more than enough crap by people who are high on this professional ranking theory and plenty of excellent stuff by scum like me.


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