Dear friend,

A word of encouragement: realize that you’re already a photographer, and you don’t have anything to “prove” to anybody else, but yourself.


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Why aren’t you a photographer?

Cindy silhouette Hanoi

It’s weird that nowadays, a lot of us talk down on ourselves and tell other people that, “Oh, I do photography as my hobby, but I’m not a ‘photographer.’”

Cindy low angle making photos with lumix

When we think of the title “photographer”, we think it is only reserved for the few— for people who make a full-time living or profession from it, people who went to school for it, or for people who have a lot of followers/are famous.

Man looking up, low perspective, Saigon black and white street photograph

But to be frank, this is all silly. Why? You don’t need any “qualifications” or forms of external validation to prove your worth. No, if your passion is making photographs — of course you’re a photographer! A photographer simply means, “Painter or light” or “Maker of photographs.”


Why this snobby elitism in photography?

Hanoi lake river hoan kiem black and white photograph eric kim street

The reason why there is elitism behind the concept of giving yourself the title of “photographer” is this:

Photographers who spent a lot of time, money, resources, or effort to build their own self-confidence as a photographer feel threatened by others, or feel indignant that anybody can be a photographer.

Walking fog eric kim sapa Street photo

Consider if you spent 10 years of your life studying photography, or going $200,000 in debt to learn photography. Of course you would feel upset if you heard others who didn’t put in the time or monetary investment (like you did) suddenly call themselves photographers. Poof! You suddenly feel slightly suckered into “wasting” so much time/money/effort to build your credentials, and suddenly you see all these other photographers succeeding without those credentials.

Sapa eric kim street photography  layers

Also, photographers who are in power feel threatened by the democratization of photography. And it is human nature to want to differentiate yourself from others, and also to feel more powerful than others. This is why a lot of photographers try to differentiate themselves from beginner iPhone photographers by owning a big/expensive camera (like a DSLR). Or this is why a lot of these “pro” photographers will only shoot fully manual, to once again, assert their “legitimacy”/knowledge in photography (to differentiate themselves from newbie photographers who can just “point and shoot”).


My propositions for a more democratic and open field of photography

Cindy leading lines Hanoi photograph

I want to change the culture, the discussion, and the framework of this concept of “photographer”. This is what I believe:

  1. Anyone who likes to make photographs is a photographer.
  2. Not everyone makes good photographs (in a more compositional/technical perspective), but that doesn’t really matter. What matters more is whether the photographer is enjoying him/herself or not.
  3. Photographers who make money from photography or who have gone to school for it, or have invested a lot of money in it shouldn’t feel intimidated, afraid, or threatened by other photographers. The more people who enter the photography sphere, the better. Why? Building the market for photographers will help benefit everyone (consider how by Elon Musk open sourcing Tesla’s patents for electric cars helped propel the whole industry of electric cars forward). Open source is good for business and society.
  4. The more photographers there are, the better.
  5. In order for us to succeed as photographers in today’s “Brave new world of photography” is to meaningfully differentiate ourselves, by cross-pollinating our unique skills and talents, and by not competing with others (but focusing on our own self-development as photographers).

Focus on your self-growth as a photographer

Leaves eric kim plant nature photograph

This is my modest proposal for photography: let us focus on developing our own skills without needing to attack others, to drag others down. Let us disregard and ignore all the pettiness online on photography. Let us focus on making beautiful images that inspire us and others. Let us continue to keep photography open and democratic for the masses, and let us have the confidence to call ourselves “photographers”, and to realize we are already photographers.

BE BRAVE,
ERIC


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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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