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Photography Your Way: A Career Guide to Satisfaction and Success

Photography Your Way: A Career Guide to Satisfaction and Success

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Photography Your Way: A Career Guide to Satisfaction and Success

548 pages
8 heures
Aug 1, 2005


This book gives you straight-talking advice from a pro on how to build a successful career in photography, said PhotoSource International of the first edition of Photography Your Way. Now distinguished author Chuck DeLaney has updated this classic book to show how digital has increased the power of photography and broadened the options open to anyone who wants a career as a photographer. Rich with seasoned advice and practical tools for developing an individual style, this book is essential for emerging photographers.
Aug 1, 2005

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Photography Your Way - Chuck DeLaney


Self-portrait, handstand, ca. 1974.


The idea for this book occurred to me about fifteen years ago as I gazed out the window of a commercial airliner as it passed over the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

I was en route from New York to Los Angeles to connect with Boeing 747 that would take me halfway around the world for a month-long photo assignment in the Philippines. My travel companion, who was also my client, awoke from a brief nap stretched out across a row of vacant seats in the half-empty plane. She had been up very late the night before, having her portrait taken for Vogue Magazine.

Although we had never worked together, based on two interviews before leaving New York, I was confident that this was going to be a pleasant and exciting assignment that would take me to a part of the world I had never visited. Best of all, the job had just fallen into my lap.

Awake now, she sat up for a moment. Oh, before I forget, let me give these to you. She handed me an envelope of cash for expenses and a first-class, round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Manila. She promptly returned to her nap.

At that moment, staring down at the massive mountains below me, I realized that nothing could excite me more than interesting assignments that allowed me to travel and take photographs. Now, I was starting a month-long assignment to an exotic location. How could I be so lucky?

Reflecting back, I realized that things necessary to snag this job had just fallen into place—a common event in my career as a freelance photographer. Oddly, I had inadvertently prepared for this assignment— working as the still photographer for a television crew—by doing several photo jobs of the same sort years before as favors.

Those jobs involved taking location photographs for friends who were producing documentary films on low budgets. Although I had never worked professionally as a unit photographer with a film or television crew, I had the experience (and the portfolio to show) to get this job because of those assignments. A mutual acquaintance had put me in touch with my new client, and things just worked out from there.


I’d enjoyed those documentary film jobs. I’ve always been happy to undertake an interesting photo assignment for a friend, even for little or no pay. I had long ago filed the negatives and forgotten the experience. Now, those jobs had unexpectedly paved the way for this opportunity. Some payback. I wasn’t only flying over the Rockies; I was on top of the world!

Like most of us, I have moments when I feel apprehensive about a new experience or the unknown. This job had come up quickly and I hadn’t had a full briefing on what was planned, nor had I met the people I’d be living with for the next month. We would link up with the director and producer in Manila, since they were based in Hong Kong. The rest of the crew would be hired in the Philippines. Nor was I sure whether we would be working in cities, remote villages, or jungle surroundings: My client had been too busy for much explanation.

My doctor had given me several strange shots, some pills for malaria, advice about when to take them, and a warning not to go swimming in Philippine rivers. Several friends had expressed apprehension about my traveling to a country where there was still considerable political unrest, since the tyrant Ferdinand Marcos had been toppled not long before.

I’d packed the gear I thought was appropriate for all the different photo possibilities, but how do you prepare mentally for the unknown? For that matter, when I had first been offered the job—just two weeks before we departed—I had thought, the Philippines . . . how odd. Until I started to read up on the country, it hadn’t even been on the list of foreign destinations I was longing to visit.

As it turned out, I had a wonderful time and encountered very few problems. There were some exciting moments, but not the kind that I had anticipated. I’d never jumped out of a helicopter hovering a few feet over a soggy rice paddy, as I would do shortly. Nor had I been stung by a high-voltage jellyfish like the one that snuck up and nailed me while I was snor-keling and photographing coral off the Island of Palawan in the South China Sea. The jellyfish I knew from the Atlantic and Caribbean were merely irritating; I had no idea to be on guard for the high-voltage variety.

Best of all, I took some great photographs, made several good friends, and developed an appreciation for a young country with enormous potential for progress and a bright future in the coming century. It was also interesting to be in a country where political democracy was a new and heady experience. It struck me that it must have been a bit like living in the American colonies in the years just after King George had been toppled. Hope was in the air, and the intoxicating possibilities of democracy were discussed everywhere, by all types of citizens.


So, on that flight over the Rockies en route to Manila, looking back, I realized I had unintentionally prepared for a job that I had neither anticipated nor sought, which was ill-defined but which I suspected would be a lot of fun.

What kind of career planning was this? It seemed haphazard, but on the other hand, I wondered—could there be a pattern?

As I sat looking at the magnificent Rockies below me, I started to think how wonderful—and unexpected—it was that a variety of different experiences and interests of mine had combined to put me in that airplane seat. I realized that I had come upon a winning combination for me. I wrote this book to help you find your winning combination—your way.


A big portion of the fun for me in photography is having an assignment, and I have always allowed myself to take assignments that I found interesting, without being overly influenced by how well the job paid. I have swung from job to job a little like Tarzan traversing the jungle vine by vine. There was always something interesting within reach, which took me a little way in one direction. Then something else interesting came up that usually led in another direction. There wasn’t an obvious design to my travels. Not even a straight path. I just let my camera lead me.

Now, since I work as Dean at the New York Institute of Photography, I can truly pick and choose the jobs I take. But it wasn’t always that way. For fifteen years I supported myself as a freelancer. Sometimes I took well-paying jobs to cover the bills, but I always tried to find something interesting in each of those. Sometimes I took low-budget, interesting jobs like the ones I had done for my filmmaker friends.


The next point is so important I’ll repeat it several times: If you don’t have an assignment, don’t worry. Give yourself one! I’m serious. It’s hard to create photographs by just walking around. But if you have an assignment, that gives you purpose. I know a photographer who visited the Netherlands and France with the goal to photograph the same vistas that Van Gogh painted. Or I might assign myself to photograph a local construction site as it progresses.

Is the point of the assignment to turn it into money in some form? Perhaps, but it needn’t be. The important thing about an assignment is the sense of purpose that it gives to the photographer.


It’s not so unusual for freelance photographers (as well as writers, filmmakers, actors, and artists) to go from job to job. The trick is to have a little insight, be lucky, and make the most of the opportunities that come your way. And, try to walk away from any flops with enough insight and confidence to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Summer 2002: I finish teaching a one-night class on digital photography for a popular learning company. A man about my age, who looks vaguely familiar, comes up and waits while I speak to some other students. The reason he looks familiar is that we went to high school together over thirty years ago. I haven’t seen him since. He identifies himself, we exchange pleasantries, and then he asks me an odd question. Did I remember John (not his real name) Novak? Of course I did. I hadn’t thought about either John Novak or the guy I was speaking with in probably twenty-five years. But I certainly remembered Novak. He never studied; he always goofed off. In fact, all he did was play golf. All the time. Nothing but golf. When teachers called on him, it was clear he hadn’t done his homework or thought about the material for the class. What could have happened to a slacker like him? I remember him, I said, what happened to him?

He’s the agent for So-and-So, my classmate replied, naming the fellow who was at that time the hottest golf celebrity on the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour.


Having survived the haphazard sensation of living job to job, I thought there might be a way that I could assist students and other photographers in assessing their skills, interests, and desires so that they too could reach their peak experiences in photography and enjoy a sense of success, and perhaps also have the chance to plan their careers with a little more foresight than I had exercised.

Don’t think that I advocate a rigid career plan; I don’t. But it was hard for me—at times I was unsure where I was heading and didn’t really see how things were fitting together. I worried I was doing it wrong. That I might fail. That I might have to abandon the life of a photographer and take a real job! That I would get to mid-life (or slightly later life) and regret my choices. I haven’t.

But I can’t deny that a slightly clearer idea of where my pathway was headed would have made for a lot less anxiety. I hope that this book can be helpful to those who have gotten started, but who find themselves blocked, or at a loss as to how to proceed with their photography careers.

It is my hope that this book will help some readers deal with negative emotions, stay in the game, learn more about themselves, and find their way in photography. Because if those negative emotions aren’t held in check, you can’t see anything clearly. They act like a fog filter, or worse yet, some kind of crazy distortion filter. I’ve also included a great deal of information about the business aspects of photography, the way the industry views you as a consumer, and as much information as possible about sales techniques.

If you’re a little confused about what you’re doing with photography and where you’re going in the field, you’re not alone. Lots of photographers that I talk with—including most students—are puzzled about how to put the pieces together and find the right trail through the many possible pathways in photography. I wrote this book to help you chart your way. It’s broken into three parts—first, a look at you and the tradition, then topics related to preparation, and finally, because no photographer can escape it, subjects related to the business.

Since that trip to the Philippines, my camera has taken me back to Asia twice and allowed me to crisscross the U.S.A. and travel abroad regularly. The trick is making it happen (whatever that means for you) the first time. And once it happens, moving forward, finding what’s positive, and growing.

My vantage point on the business and art of photography is unique. That’s not because I’m the best (or the smartest) photographer. I assure you that I’m not. My unique viewpoint comes from working as a photographer and teaching photography—in prisons as well as colleges, in old age homes, and mental hospitals. Along the way, I’ve learned things hanging exhibits, tending a gallery, doing graduate work in art history, and talking to hundreds and hundreds of photographers and photography students.

Most of all, I benefit from being Dean of NYI. It allows me to think about what’s going on in photography without having to put it to an immediate use. It allows me to reach for the telephone and ask questions of almost anyone whose brain I need to pick. And most of all, it lets me think about the responsibility and privilege of educating photographers. How we could change what we teach, what we don’t teach but we should, and how we can do our job better. How best we can blend traditional photographic education with the latest technological developments. And how we can teach photography in the most positive and constructive way.

I know I can help you move down the pathways to find success in photography on your terms—photography your way. I know this book will assist you.

Ready to start? Let’s go!

Two students in photo program for prison guards, Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, 1975.

Photo student and photographer Lisette Model, Green Haven Correctional Facility, 1974.

Part One


Unknown Photographer, Wedding Group Portrait, ca. 1900.

Chapter 1 : Careers in Photography

Having an idea for a book bouncing around in your head for ten years before it gets written is quite an experience. When I went to the Philippines and started thinking about how careers in photography are shaped, I was forty, and I finished this book— reluctantly—shortly after I turned fifty.

Over that period, the concept of the book’s structure and content changed considerably, but my basic notions about how you can get what you want out of life and photography have remained essentially the same.


In my library, I have a number of books that are traditional career guides in photography. Most of these books survey various fields—portraiture, medical photography, photojournalism, commercial and industrial photography, and discuss the requirements, job opportunities, and financial prospects of each area.

That’s not the approach of this book. I don’t see the world as so segmented. I firmly believe that photography is a passion and that, during one photographer’s lifetime, career activities are likely to meld into one another. If you were going to be a doctor, you would need to choose a specialty, such as cardiology or nephrology or psychiatry. In medicine today, even family practice is a specialty. You would probably devote many years of training to that specialty. In all likelihood, you would then practice that specialty for the rest of your life.

Similarly, if you want to make a lot of money, you might go to business school or law school, but probably not both. After that training, you would go out and have a career in business or in law. Then you’d (hopefully) get old, retire, and then die.


To me, that’s not what a lifetime in photography is about. Sure, it can be a way to make money, but there’s also a lot of fun and adventure to be had, a lot of opportunities to express yourself and your unique point of view, and the chance to change what you do as you go along. Why do one thing all your life? If you want to do that, it’s fine, but even if you train to become, say, a medical photographer, and then work in hospitals for your entire work life, that’s no reason you cannot involve yourself with all sorts of other photographic endeavors at night, on weekends, and on vacation.

That’s the beauty of photography—the vocational goals are hazy, and the training in photography technique and technology doesn’t need to be that extensive in most fields. You can be a medical photographer during the workweek and pursue fine art or animal photography on the weekend. Try being a lawyer during the week and a brain surgeon on weekends—it won’t work. The requirements, and limits, of many fields are set in stone.

To that end, I view photography more as a lifestyle than as a career. This book will cover different types of photography, and investigate the skills and temperament required for each, but there’s no sense of either/or. You can be a medical photographer and a wedding photographer. You can be a photojournalist and a child photographer. It’s up to you.

And the changes in the past decade set in motion by the arrival of digital technology have caused the field of photography to explode, as we’ll discuss in later chapters.


I’m not trying to dismiss the lives of all those doctors, lawyers, and MBAs either. There are lots of professionals in a host of fields who turn to photography to get the creative and expressive satisfaction that their profession may not be able to deliver. At NYI, some of our most excited students are professionals in other fields who turn to photography to relax and enjoy the freedom it offers. That’s a very valid pathway in photography.

So let’s start with the basics. We’re photographers and we’re involved with a very powerful force—photography. And, we have the opportunity to shape our careers as we go along. But before you can bask in the potential of photography and locate your interests and find success in one or more fields, it is essential to address three things:

First, the nature of this magical medium;

Second, what you really want to get out of photography and what skills you bring to the table; and

Third, what holds you back—as a photographer and as a human being—the negative emotions that may confuse and inhibit you.


I love photography. I make images almost every day, and I respect the power, science, art, and magic of the medium. I once took a Christmas-greeting portrait on Polaroid film for a young man who was in prison. It took me three minutes at most. Six weeks later the prisoner told me that he had sent it to his deathly ill grandmother who hadn’t seen him in the ten years he’d been in prison. Shortly after the photo arrived, she died. Among her last requests was to be buried with the portrait I made of her grandson.

To me, that’s powerful. I make images. I show people things. I capture their emotions and expressions, their memories, their past, the things they love. Sometimes I try to express my emotions in my photographs. Maybe one of my photos will help change something in the world for the better.

And, people pay me to do this!

Another key part of what I love about photography is that it is so democratic and accessible. The equipment isn’t that expensive, and you don’t need that much equipment anyway. There are lots of ways to get the training you need, and there’s opportunity for you regardless of sex, race, or physical ability.

I know photographers who work from wheelchairs. There are photographers who are legally blind. At NYI, we always have students in our course who are recovering from serious illness or injuries and who turned to photography as a second career, or as a way to reconstruct their lives. Photography can help you grow. And, I know from experience, it can help you heal.

And people looking at your photos won’t necessarily know if you’re black or white, female or male, or whether you used a Canon or a Nikon.

I recall a television interview with the late Danny Kaye, a performer with many talents. In talking about his interests, he made a very simple, but profound statement: If you can find the form of self-expression that’s best for you, then you’ve got it made.


There’s one other great aspect of photography. There’s no need to retire. Opera singers, supermodels, athletes—even the sharks and traders on Wall Street—all have a prime, and when they can’t take the rigors or hit the high notes, or when the new (and younger) face replaces the supermodel who may be over the hill in her mid-twenties, it’s time to move on. Not long ago I bumped into a professional musician—a horn player—who I hadn’t seen in some time. He told me he had gotten too old—he’d put down his horn, never to play again. I couldn’t understand. Why did you do that, John? I asked.

Chuck, you don’t get it. Photography’s not a performing art. Music is. Once your chops are gone, it’s time to stop, John explained.

Sadly, I guess John was right about music and the performing arts. Not so with photography. You can take great photos balanced on a cane or sitting in a wheelchair. It will never desert you. How many of us are lucky enough to find a lifelong friend?

For me, that’s photography. My guess is that it’s photography for you too. Now that you’ve found your method of expression, the trick is to move forward and stay optimistic. Perhaps, as you grow, you may find photography is not for you, or that there’s something more enticing. Then the trick is to move on to that better something. This is not unheard of in creative professions. The great artist Marcel Duchamp, for example, gave up making art altogether and turned his passion to chess in his later years. The wonderful French photographer Jacques Lartigue turned to painting in mid-life. Not long ago I read the obituary of Myron Scottie Scott, who started out as a news photographer for an Ohio paper and happened to take a few feature photographs of some kids who had made a toy car out of a soapbox and a set of buggy wheels. He went on to become the founder and guiding light of the Soapbox Derby. Swing through life one vine at a time.


Knowing what areas of photography are of interest to you isn’t always that easy. One problem is that the world of photographic specialties and professional practitioners is very segmented, particularly as you move into a given field. There isn’t a lot of crossover. For the most part, those in fashion know of their predecessors and peers, and a lot of art directors, editors, and tastemakers in their world. But the fashion photographer may know very little about the current and past history of photojournalists or portraitists. By the same token, the couple who run a portrait studio in Des Moines probably don’t know the names of the hotshot fine-art photographers from New York and Los Angeles.

There should be more communication between different types of photographers. There’s no career guide better than a view of the lives and works of others who devoted their days to the pursuit of photography. To that end, the first portion of this book is devoted to presenting the biographies and accomplishments of some photographers—both the famous and the lesser known. The many powers that photographs can possess will also be explored.

Michelangelo, known to most of us for his skills as a sculptor and painter, also wrote poetry. One of his sonnets muses on the potential in a block of marble. He notes that every sculpture is contained within that block; the sculptor need only remove the bits of marble that aren’t part of the sculpture!

Photography is like that block of marble. It offers everything you could possibly desire. Sometimes it may be easier to determine what you don’t want, and then make your way toward the areas that are left.


We’re all susceptible to negative feelings, but until those emotions are examined and either eradicated or put in their place, the good stuff is hard to access in a sustained, trustworthy way. And those despairing gremlins do have a way of popping up again and again, for all of us.

That’s important to remember. There may be a few enlightened souls who have put the dark stuff behind them forever, conclusively, and with no hitches. But for most of us, those negative feelings are like houseflies—you never get rid of every single one of them, you just keep them under control.

Over my career, I’ve slowly come to realize how many people—not just photographers, but all kinds of people—take themselves off the playing field, fold their hand, and ask to be dealt out of the game. They end up bitter, befuddled, or beaten. Or, if they’re lucky, just depressed. And they did it to themselves! Well, the hell with that!

A lot of our emotions come out as anger when dealing with customers and suppliers. As you’ll see, there are a few situations where you can go ahead and blow your top, and other times when you have to take it easy. There are times to talk, and times when the trick is to stay silent.

Occasionally, as you go along, you may find yourself thrown to the ground. Maybe you can pull this book out and reread a few sections and get up, brush yourself off, get back in the game, and get even with those who threw you.

The portion of this book that deals with negative stuff is written with the wish that it will help you stay in the game right up to the end. I hope it will aid you in absorbing the bumps, analyzing the self-inflicted ones so you keep them to a minimum, and learning how to handle those dealt you by others.


Photography is an elusive undertaking. As a form of self-expression it can fool lots of people. That’s because it is easy to become good, to take technically well-done photographs, to get a sharp, well-exposed image of something on film.

But it’s a lot harder to become really good and, for the gifted, even harder to become great. It’s hard to get other people to take your photography seriously. Business and finances may interfere. There are lots of rejections along the way. Any of these factors can lead to distracted, depressed thinking—a lot of if onlys:

• If only I had better equipment

• If only I had her contacts

• If only I had his sales technique

• If only I had gone to that school

• If only I could be published in that magazine

• And—one of the worst—If only I hadn’t screwed up that job

You can fritter away an entire lifetime pining about the if onlys, but these seductive thoughts must be avoided. It’s not that hard once you see them for what they are, but it’s also one of the reasons that, if you’re not careful, photography can make you crazy.


In fact, I know lots of successful photographers who are still hounded by if onlys—what they haven’t accomplished, or the people who don’t respect them—rather than basking in their considerable achievements. And these aren’t just run-of-the-mill photographers. I know of one fabulously successful commercial and editorial photographer who is obsessed with getting major shows for his work in recognized fine art museums. He won’t rest until he’s secured that reputation. I’ve also met a very successful nature photographer who expressed to me his need to prove himself to his colleagues although he has legions of admirers. They still think I’m a techno-geek, he told me.

As we’ll explore shortly, I believe that there is no one way of being. If that’s what these photographers want to do, if those are goals of their choosing, and as long as it is a choice and not an obsession, then that’s OK.

And, while it can be obsessive at the top, it can be lonely when you’re starting out. Photographers spend a lot of time alone—working, traveling, in the darkroom, or in front of a computer screen. The world is usually on one side of your lens and you’re on the other. You need to make certain that you have enough input from the outside world. It’s dangerous to get too isolated.

The fact that photography is a democratic medium, with accessibility for all, does have some drawbacks. There’s a real potential for deluding yourself, pretending to be a better photographer than you are, or obsessing that you’re not as good as you actually are.

Other forms of art and expression are much quicker to discourage people who seek to master them. For example, the performing arts can be downright cruel. If you wish to make your mark as a singer, musician, dancer, actor, or comedian, but have little or no talent, your limitations are likely to be made painfully clear very quickly. Maybe that’s good, because you can move on to something else.

After all, it’s your lifetime (chapter 3) and as it passes, you’ll realize a lifetime isn’t a long time, it’s a short time. Even if you live to be 100, that’s only 36,500 days, plus two dozen bonus days from leap years! There’s no benefit wasting any of it.

Like the performing arts, the traditional visual arts—the fine arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture—also require talent that many of us lack. You’re not likely to paint for very long if you have no skill at all.

If lack of talent weren’t a big enough obstacle, many art forms impose financial barriers as well. Authors, poets, and playwrights may curse the lack of a publisher. All filmmakers lament the high cost of producing a motion picture. Worst off may be architects, some of who must kiss up to the likes of developers such as Donald Trump to get their works realized.

But photo equipment is relatively inexpensive and getting better and less costly all the time. And, anyone can push that shutter. That’s a blessing and a possible drawback. You’ll have to trust the honest feedback of the people whose opinion you value most to determine whether your sense of your work is on target.


In the last two or three decades, technology has made photography even easier. It used to be that you had to have a modicum of understanding of exposure calibration to get the image properly exposed, and you needed sufficient eyesight and a steady hand or tripod to get a sharp image. Now even those requirements are gone—computer chips assist with exposure and focus. Anyone can take a photograph. Fewer can take a good photograph. Fewer still can take good photographs on a day-in day-out basis.

I remember years ago there was a chimpanzee who lived on Manhattan’s upper West Side who took Polaroid photographs at parties, if you hired him and his trainer. Not only could he take photographs, he was a pro!

My daughter started taking photographs when she was eighteen months old. I’ve always been comfortable putting the strap of an expensive single lens reflex (SLR)—or better still, a digital camera—around her neck. At first she was a little puzzled by the LCD viewfinder on my digital camera, but she figured it out quickly.

So there is a lot of competition out there. You need to find your way. A way that works for you to incorporate photography into your life. It will help to have a reasonably accurate estimation of your weaknesses and your strengths. That can require a rigorous self-examination. Is it worth it? It is if you want to be a photographer.


As I’ve noted, the starting point to understanding how best to fit photography into your life is to take a look at the tradition and the roles of photographers and make a rigorous examination of yourself; your interests, skills, and fears; and the photographs you might like to make. After that, we will examine the equipment, the training, the subject matter, and finally, the stuff of a career—business, money, selling, growing, changing. That’s the basic outline of this book.

So then, in a sense this book is a manual to help you find what matters to you in the many pathways that photography offers each of us who become smitten, and also to reflect a bit on what a special craft and profession this is.

This book is not a catalog of picture buyers. There are several good guides of that type readily available. I’ve noted them in appendix II. If you need one, get one.

Similarly, this book is not going to provide thorough information about pricing, legal issues, or business practices. Although I will touch on a few basics in each of these areas, there are very good books devoted to each of these matters. I’ve listed my preferences in appendix II.

This is also not a book about technique, although a few tips may sneak through.


One last point. It is fair for the reader to ask, "How will I benefit from my attempts to banish those negative emotions? If the goal is photography without negatives, then photography with what?"

The answer is multifaceted:

Photography with choice, with a sense of play, with assignments, with confidence and with a plan of roughly defined goals that work for you.

Photography with freedom, with a respect for the tradition, and with an eye on the pitfalls that come with that tradition. Photography with no regrets, with the right to experiment, and with the right to make mistakes.

There’s another difference between photography and brain surgery or rocket science—it’s OK to make mistakes. Sometimes, mistakes are part of the discovery and excitement. Mistakes can show you the way.

H. Arnoux Sphinx et les trois pyramides, ca. 1870.

Chapter 2: The Power of Photography

From its beginnings in 1839, there’s been no denying the power of the photographic medium. We also cannot overlook the historical baggage that has piled up around the tradition of photography and the image of the photographer over the past 160 years.


They were lucky, the people who were around when photography started. In the same way that some of us experienced the advent of the new medium of television, and as most of us experienced the recent arrival of another new medium—the Internet—these people had the opportunity to approach photography in the medium’s infancy.

But not us, we don’t have that opportunity. There’s an accepted academic history of photography, a succession of styles and movements, a pantheon of great photographers. There’s also a popular notion of the photographer. We’ve been dropped into a tradition. A tradition that is rich with interesting characters and anecdotes, but also a tradition that I find seriously divided at this time into two branches:

1. A fine-art/academic branch overloaded with names, dates, and careers, obscured by critical pronouncements and inbred jargon, and maintained by a cadre of people who need to be right.

2. A commercial/documentary branch that is besieged with issues concerning money and markets, as well as legal issues such as the subject’s right to privacy, the public’s appetite to know, and the shifting sense of truth in photography. Oddly, this branch also suffers from a lack of study by the same academics that have stultified the other branch.

It is my hope that the coming years will see these two branches begin to mingle. It would be very beneficial. Despite the fact that some of the critics and academics fly up into etheric heights with their ideas, it’s all just photography.

The thing that both branches share is the power of photography and the excitement we all feel about it. So that’s where we start—with the power of the photographic medium.

We are involved in a medium of human expression that possesses immense power and potential. Greater, I believe, even than what we’ve seen to date. Exciting things lie ahead—photographs no one has ever seen before.

We feel the pull of photography. That is, the urge to make images. That is natural, since we are, after all, photographers. We are enthralled by the gleam of the latest camera, the potential that awaits us every time we pick up the camera and point it at something, and finally, the moment when we behold the results of our efforts.

But the real power of photography doesn’t stem from our passion. Our numbers are few—there are perhaps half a million serious photographers in America, those we would call advanced amateurs, and less than one hundred thousand full-time professionals. Rather than from the passion we feel, the real power of photography comes from the power our images exert on the rest of the world.


Most people don’t feel the pull of photography as an activity, and most people aren’t photographers. Yet photography has a potent effect on the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. That’s true now more than ever before, and that potency will definitely continue to grow. People are moved by photographs. Photographs become the icons of their lives, the way they remember their children, their friends, and their experiences. Photographic images teach people about the world, influence whom they admire, and show them what they can’t live without.

Photographs have led us into war, and led us out. Photographs tell us about places in the world we’ll never visit. Photographs connect us to our personal past, sell us all manner of products, and move us as art. They arouse us, depress us, and inform us. We’re bombarded with photographs, and all of us have in our minds a vast visual library of images that includes the things we’ve actually seen, and lots of things we haven’t. For example, I’ve never actually seen the Taj Mahal, but based on many photographs that I’ve seen, I have a picture of it in my head. It’s the same for me with Mount Everest, the surface of the moon, the inside of an emergency room, and the morgue.

These pictures that we all have in our head are part of the so-called sensorium commune, things we accept as known by most people and therefore unnecessary to explain. When I say I’m cold, I don’t have to tell you what I mean by cold. Cold is part of the sensorium commune, as is orange juice, Elvis Presley, the Eiffel Tower, and the bald eagle.

So, in addition to its powers of communication, photography is also a crucial part of our mental filing system and our collective consciousness.

But if that weren’t enough, cameras can go where the human body and unassisted eye cannot. I have an image in my mind of the embryo inside the uterus, the interior of a nuclear reactor, and the view from the foot of a rocket engine as it ignites. The camera can be tiny and venture where I cannot. So, too, it can observe situations too dangerous for me. And, because there are hard-working souls who choose to do so, there are photographs that show me places I wouldn’t want to go—war-ravaged Rwanda, or the suicidal aftermath inside the home of the deluded souls of the Heaven’s Gate cult.

If all that weren’t enough, photography can even show us things our magnificent eyes and nervous systems can’t even perceive although they’re in plain sight.

For example, photographer Eadweard Muybridge is credited with solving a debate that had raged for years (admittedly mostly among the horsy set, painters of horses, and the admirers of their work) regarding whether or not a running horse ever had all four hooves off the ground at the same time. His early motion studies in the late 1800s, supported by the Governor of California, Leland Stanford, proved beyond a doubt that they did. We just can’t see the movement because it’s too fast.

Muybridge solved this problem over one hundred years ago. Since that time, humans have improved many aspects of our physical performance. We can run faster, jump higher, and live longer. But we still can’t see the hooves of a galloping horse without the camera’s assistance.

And much faster movements can yield their secrets to the camera with the right technique. No one had ever seen bullets and exploding objects the way the first stroboscopic photographs of Harold Doc Edgerton revealed them at the instant of violent kinetic action. And no one ever saw trains pass through the American countryside at night the way we see them in the big shot train photos of O. Winston Link.

The camera can also show us blurred motion in images taken with a slow shutter speed in a way that we can’t perceive with our eye— waterfalls and star trails reveal a rhythmic beauty when captured in a long exposure. In astrophotography, tools such as the Hubble Space Telescope can show us images from distant space that capture events that happened long, long ago.


The photograph fixes a moment in time, and reduces three-dimensional reality to

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