I've been wanting to get this out for quite some time, however I've wanted to let my thoughts develop and be as respectful as possible, avoiding falling into the same category as the one being called out.
Just like the title says, the photography industry has an attitude problem, and the photographers who conquer this attitude are some of the most successful I've seen. I'm saying this, not as a freelance photographer, because I'm not one currently. I say this as an outside observer, but I have worked professionally and with other professionals in the past.
The photography industry is so strange right now, now that it's more accessible. The idea that "anyone can be a photographer" is the bane of many professionals and for good reason. Photography is a livelyhood for many, a way to feed their children and stay under a roof. It's survival of the fittest. We live in a society defined by capitalism, thus businesses must be competitive. As a business owner, you're scared and feel as if you are inches from failure at all times. That's the nature of the beast. There's a defensiveness that comes from this fear, and it's great that you're defending what you've built. That is, until you start defending against those who aren't competing or defending yourself by attempting to eliminate potential threats.
Here's my recent story dealing with this situation (You'll hear this on the podcast Monday): I was in a wedding last weekend as a groomsman. The wedding photographer was grinding like a mad man, earning every dollar he got paid. It was clear he was good at his job and had technical skill; he was also rocking a film camera as a main shooter at points. It was clear this was his job and he's had some success.
Earlier this year, I had taken the bride and groom's engagement photos. They were probably some of the only engagement photos I'm proud of. (Due entirely to the location and the awesome Cinestill film I was using.) My photos were posted all over the wedding, which is great, it's nice to see your work printed out on display.
Thats when I started getting the unnecessary competitive vibes. The bride and groom told him that there were photographers in the wedding party (me and my next podcast guest) I guess I was in the bathroom at the time, but when I got back someone told me the photographer was looking for me. That's about when I decided to not mention that I was a photographer. I didn't want him to feel that weird competitiveness from me or perceive some sort of judgment from the photographer he was taking photos of. I also just really hate talking shop about gear and the day to day of photography.
Fast Forward to the end of the reception. Friends asked me to take a photo of them, so we went out of the way and I pull out my camera. I take 3 quick photos to avoid blinking, then suddenly the wedding photographer was next to me saying, "I wouldn't have done that. Sounded cool though. I take too many photos for that." Referring to me taking 3 photos in about a second or two. Then he looked at my friends and asks, "Do you want me to take your photo?"
His comments weren't outright mean, it's the passivity behind his words that were the issue. It was the unnecessary defensiveness that revealed he might be threatened or needed some sort of ego boost. There was no reason or gain in him walking over for the sole purpose of comparing us. He was the one making money, and I definitely wasn't. I was just taking a quick photo of my friends, out of the way from the rest of the wedding. There was no reason to share those comments, but I was timid in grabbing my camera because I was afraid that typical photographer passiveness would be shot my way. He was on a different level than me, it was pointless for him to assert himself.
The fact is, this is a common issue I've seen in photography. The more the landscape changes, the more fearful professionals get, and rightly so. The problem comes when you condemn those who pick up a camera, no matter if it's a mom who needs an outlet or an art student. Not everyone with a camera wants to make money with photography.
Even if you're competing with someone on your business level, the passivity is wrong as well. At this point, a true competitive edge comes from being more accepting and encouraging to budding photographers and other practicing professionals. More collaboration over competition. The photographers who I see continuing to grow are these encouraging types, and use their work to compete rather than bitter comments and condescension. Taking good photos isn't enough anymore, but that doesn't mean making it is impossible.
The landscape is too complicated and cluttered for people to be discouraging to others. There's always someone next in line to take your place, so photographers can't afford that attitude. I wasn't dumbfounded or shocked by this photographers comments, because I've been in this situation before, this time though, my non-photographer friends saw this and noticed it as well and confirmed what I thought about the exchange. Not everyone who has a camera is coming to get you; the bride and groom paid me in the form of Chipotle for their engagement photos, and that's fine.