Why Should Photography be any Different?

"Do photographers believe that they are cut cut from a different cloth?"–K Madhavan Pillai

“Do photographers believe that they are cut from a different cloth?”–K Madhavan Pillai

Troubled times for photographers, it seems. Despite a level of ‘democratisation’ brought in by digital technology, it has killed the very meaning of the art, and the money has dropped out through the bottom of the market… say some of the senior members of our fraternity. On the other hand, the cellphone can now do everything. It can be a million eyes, ears and tongues in places that used to be well nigh impossible to reach with a camera… opine those who make do with their cellphones. I must admit to a sense of loss for the end of the analogue way of things. There was an undeniable romance to it. Though, I state this not because it has completely ceased to exist, but because I do not practice it anymore.

My question is… why should photography be any different from the other arts or sciences, or from any kind of profession or pursuit, for that matter? Speaking of democratisation, what makes photography less of a challenge than music or painting, or medicine or law. Why should photography involve any less of study, or years of getting an education, or the ten thousand hours or more of practice that it takes for a classical dancer, martial artist, or an athlete. Or do photographers believe that they are cut from a different cloth? Is that what democracy is about—life being easier? Or is it about the number of people who can now make a correct exposure by lifting a camera out of its box? Or rather, shouldn’t it be about the freedom to make a choice, to work hard, to have a muse, to follow a path, to struggle against the tide—to be who you need to be—and to live with the consequences of it?

It took me 3 minutes and 13 seconds to listen to Charlie Parker’s Carnegie Hall rendition of April in Paris. I heard it again, and again, and yet again. I can only imagine the lifetime of practice it must have taken to reach that unbelievable level of virtuosity. Every once in a while, I am compelled to look at an image for at least that long. And go back to it time and again. So why should photography be any lesser? Why should it not command the same level of respect and acceptance, at least by photographers? Tangentially, democratisation is not democracy, but rather the route to it. If photography isn’t there yet, I will be glad when it does. India celebrated its 68th year of independence last month. We are the world’s largest democracy. It certainly is not an easy mantle, but truly… what a proud one to bear!

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, Edit note, September 2015