Editorial photographers used to jump from one story to another. News was news — whether sports, conflict, celebrity or natural disaster. A photojournalist would shoot a head of state one hour and a celebrity the next. And he or she would do so with the same talent, the same intense dedication to quality.
Today, many photographers prefer to categorize themselves in self-assigned niches. News photographers hardly talk to sports photographers anymore. Everybody has their group, association, blogs, and forums.
Photography has its social classes, almost like a feudal society. It has its kings and knights, its jesters and courtesans, and of course, the peasants.
So where do you rank on the totem pole of photo-snobbery? Here’s a quick take, starting with the photographers most respected (by snobs) —
1. Conflict Photographer.
- The bigger the scarf around the neck, the more important you are. It’s like a medal of honor. Conflict photographers are treated as heroes, regardless of the quality of their images. It is not so much what they bring back that matters, but what they go through to get it. They even earn more credentials if, heaven forbid, they are wounded or killed. The path to legendary status is then almost a given.
2. Fine Art Photographer. If your works seems to carry a hidden message that no one understands, or is “disturbing,” or both — you’re in. The more academic titles you have, and the more awards (even unknown awards) you’ve received, the higher your ranking on the totem pole. Books, exhibits, and speaking engagements are a plus.
3. Documentary Photographer. Even one photo story on dying children in Africa goes a long way. It’s even better if you use multimedia. A crappy documentary photographer is 20 times more respected than the best red carpet photographer.
4. Magazine Cover Photographer. It doesn’t matter that the end product is highly retouched by on computer. Magazine cover photographers often enjoy privileged celebrity status; it helps to be a great schmoozer. Being a good photographer is irrelevant. It’s all about who you know.
5. Corporate Photographer. We’re heading down the totem pole now — but taking pictures of CEOs and lawyers still brings respectability. The longer you do it, the more respected you’re likely to be. Not for your talent, but for the mere fact that you have been around for so long.
6. Commercial Stock Shooter. The higher the nose is pointing, the more important the photographer.
7. Sports Photographer. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.
8. Wedding Photographer. So plebeian.
9. Celebrity Photographer. If you are a photographer with a lot of talent shooting every day because people hire you all the time, then you are a “peasant,” a laborer. Especially if you work in the celebrity field. Although everyone will tell you that celebrity photography is what sells these days, it is considered by photo snobs a sub art form, a dirty job, like cleaning the sewers. Celebrity photographers are completely ignored at photo festivals, trade shows, photo museums and even workshops. They are like a family member you keep locked in the basement.
10. Paparazzi Photographer. The scum of the earth, right? How dare they take pictures of people without their approval! Of course, documentary photographers also invade privacy, don’t they? But I guess that’s OK because it’s in Africa or Afghanistan and not Hollywood.
11. Amateurs and Microstock Shooters. How dare they even make this list!
As a reminder, where you rank on this list has little or nothing to do with talent. After all, the “best” photographers these days don’t take pictures anymore and have assistants doing it for them. No one seems to mind.