I recently started reading Denis Curti's book "Understanding Contemporary Photography". Engaging, stimulating, and full of ideas about the world of photography, art, and the curator's profession.
I want to share this passage with you is an extract from the book that caught my attention. “In the last thirty years, this world has undergone a very rapid evolution; it has faced and overcomes real technological and productive earthquakes that have radically transformed the existence and role of those who work in the sector? Since the end of the nineties, the digital revolution has marked a crucial historical moment, in which images have become the main contemporary means of expression, and the actors active in the field of photography have multiplied, effectively loosening (to remove) the threshold impermeability that connoted in the analog world the clear separation of roles between professionals and amateurs” P. 25/26
“Basically, according to the author, the photographer’s profession was defined (and protected) by a sort of “technical” exclusivity derived from the use of analog systems. Whose modest diffusion constituted, until a few decades ago, an impossible limit that sanctioned the boundary between professionals and amateurs of the image, a limitation that the author translates into the expression “threshold impermeability.””
I find this concept very interesting and, I wonder if the time has not come to reconsider and redefine it in the light of the times. If it is true, as it is true, that the mechanical use of a vehicle, be it a camera or a supercar, does not necessarily make the user a professional in that field.
Therefore, the question arises spontaneously: if before the waterproofing threshold that separated professionals from amateurs was given by the analog means used, where is that threshold now? Is there still a possible demarcation between professional and amateur photography? Does it make sense to seek a border between two worlds confused by a technical instrument’s democratization? Isn’t it absurd to talk about democratization when we know that it is not enough to push a button to take a good photograph or create the right image?
All artisans of image and professional photography
As the author rightly reminds us, “photography is no longer seen as a craft profession that requires a particular apprenticeship, but as an expressive means within everyone’s reach”. Again I agree. The so-called democratization brings with it an inevitable professional devaluation on the part of the public. This phenomenon determines further problems and contradictions inherent in today’s world of photography.
All this brings a lot of confusion, but we should remember that, to put it metaphorically, if Ferrari were the proletarian vehicle par excellence, this would not be enough to transform the masses into armies of professional drivers, right?
More than talking about the error, we should perhaps talk about a conscious or unconscious choice to transform a job into something hybrid. We are assuming that the system was based solely on analog technology and hence the profession. The figures involved in this field (agencies, newspapers, curators, etc.) and the photographers themselves, so there has not been a step forward from a professional perspective, primarily if everything is based on technology, leaving out training elements professional and the person himself.
It is enough to see how professionals today manage in this area and, above all, how the vast majority of people consider this profession.
Could it be a cultural problem? The result today is that the photographer is not considered a professional figure. He is seen only as someone with a camera around his neck. The problem is to be found both at the cultural and institutional level. Despite the presence of schools and academies of photography throughout Italy, the photographer seems to be a hybrid figure between a profession and something “everyone has a camera”. What do I mean when I speak of a cultural problem? If I have to overhaul the car, I don’t take it to my ice cream friend. He may know more about cars than I do, but that doesn’t make him a pro.
Photography is undoubtedly an expressive medium dependent on a technological medium. Still, it is also and above all a language, and as such, it has its own formal and grammatical rules that require specific instruction and in-depth study. All this should make photography a real profession and ensure the prestige and consideration it deserves from the masses. Given that we live in the age of image and post-photography, it is essential to reconsider photography in a broader context.
I think it’s time to rethink the concept of professional photography and that of an image as a language to take them to a higher and above all different levels. Let’s try to think about how Anglo-Saxon countries use this medium, this incredible expressive medium, and above all, what is considered at an institutional and cultural level. When it comes to photography or images, there is a 360-degree and superior quality preparation. It could probably happen because there is a greater awareness of what it means to use this medium, this expressive medium that creates digital and analog images. Remaining in the Italian field, I think it would not be wrong to review the impermeability threshold concept and draw a new cultural, institutional, and professional dividing line.