Saturday, November 07, 2009

Photography: A lifestyle

Since the stone age, cavemen have been painting on walls depicting what they planted and hunted for food. In the heydays of the Renaissance, painters have been trying to depict the qualities of light, hence the term ''chiaroscuro". Then came along Henri Cartier Bresson with his classic Leica trying to depict the ''perfect moment". What do all of these have in common? Well, we all need images as one of the basic forms of communication, and the advent of the camera has just enabled us to do just that, albeit in a more sophisticated manner. And today, everyone can pick up a camera, and take great images.

However, have you ever really thought of photography as a lifestyle, aka. being a photographer ? Come on, let's be honest. At one point in time, some of us wanabes (myself included) have thought that way.

Want some examples? For me, it was having the latest and most expensive bazookas in my hands that enable me to shoot at a gazillion ISO,  kings and queens begging at your doorstep to shoot their offspring's wedding (they'd even change their wedding dates for you if they could), shooting studio shots of celebrities, having the biggest and poshest studio on the planet, getting interviewed by magazines and TV shows, travelling around the world for wedding shoots, and the list goes on and on (it never ends, really).

OK, where am I leading all of you to? Well, all of those super fantabulous photography gurus have some things in common. Let me give you some examples from my country, and what fame and fortune results in:
  • A famous photographer owed many freelance huge debts, amounting to 30 thousand dollars for one videographer and self proclaimed himself as Malaysia's top 10 photographers (the numbers really count by the way, number 11 and below have no significance at all in our puny asian minds). Wonder how he got to the top? He got himself an entry level camera, picked up bits of freelance jobs and proclaimed himself as Malaysia's top _  photographer in less than one year.
  • They admit themselves to the WPJA  (Wedding Photojournalist Association), pay a subscription fee of several hundred US dollars to have bragging rights, and proclaim themselves as the "World's Top X   WPJA Wedding Photographer). Fortunately, one photographer has had the guts to disassociate himself from that title.
  • They form "elite associations" that enable them to charge clients as high as RM 25k for a wedding job, though some of the core members aren't fond of each other and are more than willing to stab each other in the back to win the rat race. Hmm.. sounds like the Port Klang Free Zone scandal, don't you think? Or perhaps one famous quote in the book The Spirit of Capitalism: "As long as I am getting rich, I am well" . Oh, if you're not willing to pay that amount, you'll only get a substandard result from their underpaid underlings, and you can dream of that main photographer showing up at your wedding.
  • They organize seminars in a pristine resort, where hundreds of followers (aka. newbies and enthusiasts) readily flock to them and are conned to pay heaps of cash to ''learn from the Masters".
  • In the name of art, they trash wedding suits and dresses with soft drinks and garbage. I wonder what the shop hiring the dresses would think. Oh come on, don't be cheap. Pop a bottle of champagne if you have to! The culprit states: "Its a declaration that the wedding is done and that the dress will never be used again. Its an alternative to storing the dress away". Hmm.. maybe they bought the outfits from an ebay store in China. No wonder they can trash it.
  • They're legalising the fact that those who sing the loudest and proclaim themselves as the _th top photographer in Malaysia / the world is the (only) way to success.
  • They show their clients that they are damn busy and overbooked - but that's only partial truth - if they can lie about themselves, they lie about many things. It sounds something like making a power outage report to Tenaga National Berhad, but you know that the officers are just gonna sit on their asses and do nothing about it for a long long time. Please refer to Namewee's youtube video for more information.
  • They get interviewed by various TV shows and magazines, and are all the more ready to accept interviews by big name magazines to sell their names and fame.
  • They write best-selling books on how to be photography millionaires, and enjoy their jobs at the same time, all in a very short time. Oh.. they have their own products too, like a very famous flash diffuser brand. Only God knows what other businesses can they crank out of their minds, all in the name of being Malaysia's first photographer millionaire.
The future of photographers (and photography in general) in Malaysia is grim: if we have a MYOB (mind your own business) attitude as so many of us do, more and more of these "fantabulous photography gurus" will sprout in our backyards faster than mushrooms! As this worsens, the wedding photography industry in Malaysia will go downhill, and the world will end. [OK, I'm kidding, but you get my point]

When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them a conscience and a brain to work hand in hand with each other. Now it seems we've really lost it all! We photographers have become delusional with ourselves and the whole industry, and yet we react as if everything is normal and don't give a damn about it. Are we just gonna sit down and do nothing about it while bigger and bigger lies are concocted daily in our own backyards?

A friend challenged me recently to be brave, and to speak up of all these unethical acts, and strike the iron while its still hot. I hence use my blog for these purposes.

Why a blog, you may ask? Blogs are meant to spread positive and useful messages, and to influence people that care to do something about the current situation. I am by no means influential; I am still a small fry, with lots to learn, and a lot more grains of salt to swallow. If I can do something to change the world and make it a better a place, even something small would be appreciated.

Being a photographer is about how we live our lives as a light for others, not how much we can climb above our contemporaries and how much dough we can suck out from our clients for the sake of having a really good looking bank account. As Olympus Visionary John Isaac once said in the book Perfect Digital Photography:

I feel that I am a human being first and a photojournalist second. During my career, I followed one simple guideline: Never take away someone’s dignity, just as I would not want someone to take away my dignity...

...This guideline has prompted me to put down my camera in several situations where it would not have been appropriate for me to be making pictures. Sure, I may have produced some powerful photographs, but only at the expense of another human being.

Wow.. what awesome words they are from a true master of the craft. Lets go forth, be honest, fair dinkum photo enthusiasts who are passionate and honest about our craft, and share some great images while spreading a good attitude to those around us.



David Chua said...

Extremely well written. I know some of these people. Truths, truths and nothing but the truths that people ignore. I am so glad to see more and more people speaking up! The law of sowing and reaping can never be broken. As as Chinese says, "paper can't wrap fire!"

David Chua said...

This is a beautiful silhouette image and truly a meaningful one.

Northern Horse Photography said...

Wonderful post Brandon thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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