Trawling through the archives to create our snapshots of this magazine 25, 35 or 45 years ago can be very revealing. It’s evident that a whole lot has changed – anything to do with hardware obviously – but quite a few things haven’t… particularly aspects of the way the professional photography industry operates within the wider spheres of society, industry and the general media.
Something really caught my eye in the November-December 1969 issue of the magazine which was then called Professional Photography In Australia. It was part of a report on the annual convention of the Institute Of Australian Photographers (IAP, now AIPP) which had recently been held in Canberra. There were, in fact, two items which seem strangely pertinent to where the industry is now, 45 years on. The first was the keynote address given by guest speaker and successful photographer Gordon De’Lisle – and he didn’t hold back.
He starts, “I, unhappily, have little but melancholy to impart. The individual Australian photographer is involved in a sad, sick, depressed profession that has sunk so low in dignity and public esteem as to be accorded a status basement perhaps unique for photography in the entire world”!
He’s just getting warmed up.
“This is a profession that is chronically crowded and where buyers of photography are totally undiscerning and content with any old result… the available pie, in consequence, is being cut into so many bite-sized chunks that nobody gets a square meal.
“It is a profession that has abased itself to such a degree that some of its biggest businesses will slash their prices by half like back-alley garment sweat shops, to get ‘machine filler’ work. This is a profession whose ideas are pillaged consistently and blatantly by ‘art directors’ of advertising service agencies; who pay the photographers’ meagre fees, with luck and after endless dispute, in five months. Above all, this is a weak-kneed, spineless profession, whose members wallow in apathy and self-adoration; while those trades and professions about them get on with the task… and even militantly demand their due!”
After that little spray, you’d imagine he had the audience’s full attention and, in fact, there was a lot more challenging stuff to come, but he did also propose ideas for assisting professional photographers to take more control of their destinies, including their greater involvement in any activity that involved presenting Australian photography both at home and internationally.
However, you’d have to wonder what he’d think about today’s state of affairs given how much more the profession has been devalued in the digital era and not just in monetary terms, but also as to how it’s viewed as a profession. How many people do you encounter on a regular basis who really do think it’s just all about the latest camera? Great chefs don’t get complimented on their choices of kitchen appliance… what separates them from the home cooks is their vision, imagination, ingenuity and experience. Isn’t it the same with professional photographers?
Yet we’ve still not managed to convincingly sell the idea that today’s imaging technologies do not somehow magically enhance creativity. Great things have been achieved over the intervening years with lifting professional standards, improving business practices and developing marketing strategies, but we’re still essentially an inward-looking industry. We haven’t, in all this time, defined exactly what is a professional photographer.
Elsewhere in this same issue, the late great David Moore penned an article titled Photography – What Does It Mean And Where Is It Going? The ‘what does it mean’ bit is essentially a period piece, but Moore is remarkably insightful with his main idea about ‘where is it going’, citing remote camera operation as a major component of the future… and this well before the digital era has made such things commonplace. He described the prospect as “somewhat terrifying”.
But in this time of intense emphasis on imaging technologies, he had something of much greater relevance to say…
“When we feel deeply enough about the subject, there is a chance of moving to new heights. There is
a possibility of producing strong visual poetry, but this is a rare state. If we open our hearts so wide that our absolute basic feelings are exposed in our photographs, we reveal ourselves totally.
“Our beliefs are laid bare and it is on them that we stand or fall. Great pictures are produced when this happens in the right way.”
Amen to that.