A good friend of mine, quoting someone famous in the industry, said to me recently ” This industry (the photo industry) draws the best and the worse people’. Nothing can be so true. On one side you have some of the most amazing brains, whose talents mix ingeniousness with off-the-chart brightness, paired with an acute sensibility. These rare and few could not have worked anywhere else. They use they inherent curiosity, humanisms, historical knowledge, street smart logic, hunger for information, people skills, and immense charm to dominate this market by constantly innovating while avoiding small time thinking. They cannot work in a corporate environment because it is too restrictive for them, and they cannot deal with middle of the road mediocrity. Deciding by consensus is impossible for them, because obviously, the more an idea is original and groundbreaking, the less it has any chance to survive one of those endless corporate meetings. Meetings, whose only purpose is to give a voice to those who know nothing about the business a right to voice their opinions and something to do.
These few people I am mentioning are not young anymore, at least physically. Most are at their retirement age although retirement is not an option for them; they never worked a day in their lives, they just played. And won. And I do not see much replacement. Certainly not those “worst” people whose only claim to success has been to navigate the corporate world without ever being caught of saying anything of value. They have been in this business ever since the Corbis and Getty’s have entered it not so long ago, and have thrived because they can speak for hours without saying anything intelligent or steel someones else idea and make it sound like theirs, and are incredibly agile in office politics. Their knowledge of photography is about the same as an any amateur on Flickr. They usually entered this industry because they have failed somewhere else. Unlike the geniuses who select their friends with care, they know A LOT of people, because they are who they know.
Without the geniuses, this industry will be soon turned into a desert. No landscapes, no emotions, no truth. Probably fine for the corporations but certainly not good for photography itself. Or maybe some new one will rise. I see some real promises on the horizon.
On another note, I fell on an article the other day. Another one talking, raving about the new rise of citizen journalism. It was citing the video of Saddam Hussein’ hanging as the latest example. What bothered me is that this is on a site of a respected photo magazine. If this young journalist (?) who apparently knows nothing about the history of photojournalism had spend more time doing research and less time reading entries on Myspace.com, he would have known that some of the greatest moments in modern history where taken by amateur photographers. It is called being at the right place at the right time. And point and shoots have existed for a very long time now, just ask Kodak. There is nothing new here.
What is new here, is the economics of such images. Before, photo agencies would scout for these images, secure the rights and license them for thousands and more, making the citizen journalist a compensated person. The images taken by the tourists during and after the Tsunami are a very good recent example of that. What is different with the London bombing or the Saddam Video is that every news media got them for free, because those so called citizen journalists posted them on free sharing sites. And I really do not see what is so exciting about that, especially for a magazine that writes for professional photographers.
Furthermore, photo agencies, ran by professionals, were the guardians of journalistic integrity. They could guarantee the veracity of the images or videos taken. Now, it’s a free for all and open door to mass propaganda or altered images.
So, once again, video phones or point and shoot camera, what is it we are getting so excited about ?