The Only Thing Photography Has to Fear Is Fear Itself

One of the leading explanations for the disappearance of the Neanderthals was that they could not adapt their tools to the new conditions surrounding them. They stubbornly (or stupidly, considering their limited brain capacity) continued to use the ones they had. Then, they vanished.

There are those in the industry today who fear photography is dying. Actually, it is doing just fine — better than fine. Photography is experiencing a tsunami of interest and demand. Indeed, there are more than 50 billion images on Flickr, PhotoBucket, ImageShack and Facebook — and more cameras on the streets than at any time in history.

Prehistory Repeats Itself

And what is the photo industry’s response to what should be an unprecedented opportunity? It stands there with its umbrella turned inside out, fretting about the wind.

The pro photographer says he can’t make a living anymore.

The photo editor says she has lost her budget (if she hasn’t already been laid off).

Magazines, as they die in print, try to replicate their old models online. (The fact that it’s demonstrably not working doesn’t seem to deter them.)

Photo agencies try to hang onto the slippery slope of declining revenue by agreeing to cut fees in hopes there is a trampoline at the bottom of the hill. (There isn’t.)

Photographers still shoot the same thing, the same way, for a clientele that is shrinking, both in size and resources. They desperately cling to old formulas that they hope will resurface some day.

Everyone is playing the waiting game, hoping that as they continue their worrying, some savior will appear with the magic solution.

In the meantime, they are all guilty of killing photography by undervaluing it.

From the publishing CFOs convinced that by cutting their photo departments they will reverse their circulation declines, to the photo agency executives who believe that by cutting prices they will cheat Chapter 11, to the photographers smiling when they receive commission checks for 11 cents, there seems to be no shortage of Neanderthals these days.

We are seeing prehistory repeat itself.

A Painful Carnage

Armed with the blunt instruments awarded by their MBA programs, a steady stream of industry executives have tried to adapt photography to their tools — price cuts, subscription models, and so on — rather than developing new ways to succeed.

Like a bunch of irresponsible farmers, they are creating their own dustbowl.

Most of this is driven by fear. Fear of change, fear of losing, fear of even trying. Too many in our industry seem to believe that, on the other side of change, they will find only chaos, death and emptiness.

No — that is what awaits on this side of change.

Before we know it, the landscape of photography will have been completely transformed. It’s going to be a painful carnage — and for some, it has already started.

The first to go will be those who fear.

6 Responses to “The Only Thing Photography Has to Fear Is Fear Itself”

  1. I generally enjoy the articles I read here, but this one is merely stating the obvious problem without any offer of an alternative solution. People are afraid of losing what they know. That's no big secret.

    How do they recognize new opportunities and adapt? That's where you could offer something useful instead of telling them what they already know. Don't mock their methods of trying to adapt if you don't have something better to share.

  2. I wish Paul's points WERE that obvious to the people running photo agencies and publications.

  3. I think Paul's point is well made; people love photography more than ever before. The struggle is with our rather out-dated business model. Perhaps the place for the 'professional photographer' as we would recognise him/her will be much reduced, but unless we enthusiastically join the search we will be increasingly excluded.

  4. So, what is working? I have yet to find anyone who is making a full-time living from photography in this day and age. Please give some examples of that if you are willing, in another post. Perhaps you can offer information to the contrary, but on the professional street, photography may not be dying, but the professional photographer is. What it looks like now is that in the future, photographers will be either trust funders or people with other jobs/sources of real income. Will this be good for photography? Those who still make a living, are not making it from photography, but from selling instruction about photography. Can everyone be a teacher? Many of us are fortunate to have methods for letting go of fear, but even so, fear is a natural reaction, when food isn't landing on the family table.

  5. I agree with David. So what is working? I have researched other market areas across the country and I have found time and time again that there are fewer and fewer professionals who are doing photography as a full time job. Most of the ones in business now are trust fund or have other sources of income. 11 cents doesn't pay my rent for the studio or food. Am I not shooting what clients want? Even the young couple couples as hip as they are... when given the choice (and pocket book) are still buying a traditional pose or something from a funky crazy angle with the camera looking up their noses.

  6. It's the photographer's vision, not as much the medium that will be the greatest factor in how things play out.

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