Screaming Into The Abyss

I Will Remain An Amateur
By Ben Zvan
On October 27, 2008 at 15:57

DodecahedralIt could be argued that there are two types of photographers in the world: professionals and amateurs. Well, it could also be argued that this is a two-dimentional continuum with the second axis being good and bad photographers, but that's not the point of my story. Since I'm a good photographer, I'll try to keep my focus narrow.

When it comes to photography, I am first and foremost an amateur. While the word has been co-opted and bastardized by the professionals who spit it at photographers who aren't very good, the soul of the word really defines one who does something for the love of it. Unfortunately, there's not usually a lot of money in being an amateur. Almost by definition, an amateur is not often paid for what he does. That makes exercising a love of one's art more difficult and brings more venom from the professionals who lose money to those who will do their jobs for free.

I am also a professional. This is another word that has been used in many ways and I consider most of them to apply to me. I am professional in that I respect my subjects and my peers and in that I get paid to make photographs. I don't do enough work-for-pay to completely support a life of photography and I'm not even sure I'd want to. As a result, I find myself straddling the definitions and trying to carve out a meaningful place for me to stand.

This line between occupation and avocation is a hard one to walk and I don't think I want to do it forever. The more I want to put into my avocation, the more I have to put into my occupation to fund it. And the more my avocation is self-funding, the more it can feel like work.

A good friend of mine got married last month. I didn't offer her my services as a photographer, though maybe I should have. I'm not all that interested in weddings because there's a lot of pressure and you only get one shot to get it right. On the other hand, weddings pay well and I've done enough of them to know I'm more than capable. If I were to make a living from wedding photography, I'd need to shoot an average of one wedding every week of every year. That means advertising, customer coordination, billing, and more retouching than I'd like to think about right now. If I hired someone to deal with the business aspect, I'd have to shoot twice as often. If I wanted a studio; half again as often.

Anyway, another friend of mine, who was the bride's cinematographer, got into a conversation with the wedding photographer about seating and dining arrangements while they were grabbing their place cards. The photographer saw my name on the board and was mentioned that he had heard of me. "You want to sit next to him? I can make that happen." the cinematographer asked. Later, at dinner, she waved to the photographer, who was standing next to me, and said "Hey! This is Ben Zvan!" by way of introduction. He turned to us and said, "Yes, I know. I'm working up to it. It's kind of like meeting Jesus."

Obviously, I didn't have a ready response to that one. I guess it means I have something of a reputation among at least some photographers. The real question is whether or not a reputation is all I want or if I need to work toward a profession. Many artists are most recognized posthumously and, while that would be great, I don't think I'd enjoy it as much as being recognized now.

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