With age comes clarity – well and all sorts of medical issues but that’s TMI. Back to the clarity I’ve gained from age… I’ve noticed that people have very different versions of what constitutes a “famous photographer.”
This post isn’t designed to tell you who is and is not a famous photographer. It’s designed to ask more questions than provide answers because I want it to lead to deeper thinking on this idea of “famous photographers.”
So let’s start with one of my concerns.
Should photographers be famous because they take pictures of famous people or events? If I make a head shot of my local insurance salesman for his brochure, and if I use the same exact approach, technique, vision and gear that a person uses to make a headshot of Justin Beiber, the person that makes the headshot of Justin Beiber is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more likely to be considered a “famous photographer.” Why should that person be famous just because they made an image of another famous person? Why should someone be famous because they took a photo of a famous object? It boggles my mind when I think about it too much – so I try not to think about it too much. Maybe I’m just not getting something that is obvious to everyone else. And I accept that could be true. But that’s not all…
Then there’s fame based on genre. Art Wolfe is a famous nature photographer, but chances are he could walk through a sports shooter convention, a wedding conference or a press association workshop and never be recognized. For a few years, a guy named Denis Reggie was one of the best-known wedding photographers on the planet (that’s what marrying a famous person can do for you.) But if he went to a NANPA convention, NAB, or a conference for product shooters, they wouldn’t have a clue who he is. I guess the point I’m making here is that just because you’re famous as a _______ whatever photographer, doesn’t mean anyone outside that genre knows you are alive. Fame is fleeting.
Then there are the old masters. Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Paul Strand, etc. They are generally famous because they pioneered art photography. They did something that involved craft. Was it a right time right place deal or did they really earn it? (I think it’s both.)
We can’t forget Internet famous. I’m a little bit of an Internet famous photographer, but I guarantee you that most the big New York agencies don’t know my work. There’s a pretty girl who makes self-portraits who’s so famous on Flickr she only uses her first name. But I seriously doubt anyone would recognize her at a WPPI or PPA convention. There’s a guy who works full-time as a stock broker, but considers himself as a serious photographer. His online fame is almost exclusively limited to the Internet. He’s not publishing in any of the usual places but he’s very well known online.
So what’s it all mean? What’s it matter? I’d argue not much. Being famous seems to be the goal of the younger generation. We have people like Paris Hilton who’s famous for merely being famous. It hurts my mind to think about it. It’s sort of like a feedback loop.
Much of the hate mail I receive from trolls is the direct result of their dislike for the fact that I have more followers or sponsors than them. They want fame more than they want money or success. Many of these people don’t like it that nobody wants to listen to THEIR podcast or invite THEM to speak at Photoshop World. Tough. So what? That stuff doesn’t mean a thing. It won’t matter 100 years from now. What will matter is the work. The pictures will live on beyond the image-makers and the great pictures will be remembered much longer than their photographer’s names.
If you are trying to become a famous photographer, ask yourself why. I think that time would be better spent trying to become a great photographer. If you manage that, fame will eventually come in one form or another. Perhaps being famous isn’t all its cracked up to be?
Whatever your position on this subject, I’d like to challenge you to think about WHY you feel the way you do and examine the whole notion of “famous photographers.” It’s just a suggestion.