Last week, Zack Arias received an email from someone excoriating him for ruining the photography business, teaching “n00b’s” misleading information, fouling the water, defiling the tenants of Mordor, and general misbehaving. Or something.

You should read it here, and Zack offers his email back to the guy (a 99%’er, I take from his signature…), and Zack defends himself and his friends quite adequately.

I have gotten a few of these myself, and occasionally respond, but most of all I try to understand what the heck the guy is talking about. Usually, they are some sycophant of an online ‘celebrity’ who feels that I may have offended his glorious leader – or something.

But what I see in some, and what I saw in Zach’s ‘fan’ email was fear. Terror, even. Blinding terror that holds some back from the future by hoping something will come along and ‘make it like it used to be’.

He sounds like someone who has built his self identity with photography, and now much of that identification has been destroyed, forgotten and ignored. Things that were true, as true as rain, simply proved false. “You must become technically proficient”, we were told, “and that will allow you to excel in the making of photographs.” Learn about chemistry, KNOW the zone system, how to expose chrome, what exposure/processing it would take to create that thing you saw in your head.

Choices… choices at every turn. Format, film, ISO, chemistry, lighting, lenses, and so much more… all within a tightly defined set of tolerances. Screw up E6 by a half a stop, and the shoot is ruined. Use the wrong developer, the shoot is ruined. Mix up the ISO / exposure / chemistry and nothing on God’s earth could save it – the shoot was ruined.

The stuff we ‘old timers’ thought meant something is no longer invested with any meaning. Choices between digital capture devices comes down to marketing and ‘community’.

Some of us (I hope me included) will move along with the changes… growing and adapting and being excited about the image making process – no matter what form that process takes. For others, the process WAS the thing. The KNOWLEDGE and PASSION for the process set them apart.

The writer to Zack seemed to bear that out. He decries teaching without ‘values’, but doesn’t take the time to actually define those values are – at least in his mind. However, I think I know what he means.

“By teaching people to become “pretend” photographers (those with little understanding and skills) can do harm.”

In other words; “It used to take a long time and a lot of money to learn all that was special about photography, and you guys are not talking about that stuff anymore. I am not able to be a part of the conversation, because who I AM, and what I KNOW are no longer relevant. What about me? What about all the stuff I know?”

I am not a psychic, nor do I play one on TV, but I have heard this before. I have seen this attitude in photographers for the past 10 years. It is the sadness and fear that one must endure as the craft that identified them is lost to the dustbin of history.

Typesetters know this. Lithography ‘strippers’ know this, as well as many who were the best in the city at making color separations. Jobs that took years of study and practice killed off in less than a decade by a little box that anyone can buy for a grand or less. People, good people, who may have once been the ‘best typesetter’ in the county, and won awards and honors, watched as his profession simply, well, faded.

I don’t mean to say that photography is fading, but a lot of what made photographers professionals, what defined them, was the craft of image making. Chemistry, negatives, films of all types, the view camera, building a shot in the camera by hard, tenacious problem solving and masterful, hard won technique. These things took years to learn and perfect, decades to become proficient enough that we would call them a master.

All of the above is no longer needed, expected, or even thought much of these days.

Three of the most important books written for photographers was “The Camera”, “The Negative”, and “The Print” by Ansel Adams. To most of the photographers out there, they are no longer of any value. Nothing in them is relevant. We do not have negative choices, chemistry choices, and the need to learn how to use exposure/chemistry to make the simple negative we need to even begin the printing phase. (And please don’t give me that “Zone System” for digital photography crap. The Zone System relied on exposure and processing – with chemistry. Digital does not. Understanding exposure and working with placing that exposure is not the zone system.)

Gone. All of that is no longer needed.

Does that matter to you? If you have only ever been a digital photographer, it may mean little. To some photographers, that was a huge amount of learning – learning something “special”, something the amateur and snap-shot shooters cared little for. When you decided to get ‘serious’ and put in a darkroom, you started to devour the manuals, books, and workshops where this information was taught.

I took an Ansel Adams workshop a long long time ago. We talked about photography, and carried bigass cameras up to vistas to make shots on 8×10 film, which would then demand long hours in the darkroom processing the film, and making prints. We had to choose developer (I loved Rodinal and Microdol for different reasons), and then make paper choices, enlarger lens choices, chemistry and toner choices… Choices ALL based on a shit load of knowledge.

Some photographers felt that knowledge was a defining characteristic of their being. They WERE photographers because they knew and could work with this vast amount of knowledge. Knowledge that was based on years and decades of practice. And that practice had a cost to it. Every roll of film, every roll developed, every print made – even the giant waste paper baskets of bad prints – cost money. A lot of money.

Investment. With both money and time. Lost.

“Please pass this on to your Internet group. Reading Understandng Exposure and having a high end Nikon is not a carrer (ed; career). It’s but a start.”

Yes, and then we need to learn how to develop film and shoot E-6 and do snip tests and make color adjustments with gels and study the emulsion numbers and know 10 different ways to develop Tri-X in less than great conditions and… and…

Well, no actually. We don’t.

And so the photographer who loved this stuff, craved this stuff, defined themselves by the knowledge of it simply cannot let it go. It is so much a part of who they are. It was their ‘special’ stuff and they were good at it.

And they have to let it go. It isn’t coming back.

Zack was correct in his assessment of the inappropriateness of the writer’s tone and accusations. To think that someone who teaches anything photographic is doing harm is nonsense. And as far as wrecking the business/art of photography, blaming CJ and Kelby are like blaming bad literature on the grade school teachers who taught reading and writing. What one does with one’s skills is a very powerful PERSONAL responsibility.

So we continue down the balkanization of what used to be one art/craft. We now have digital imagery, natural light shooters, ‘strobists’, pro-am’s, weekend warriors, GWC’s and more. There seems a tendency for people to make alignments, and owe their identities to leaders, or gear, or tools, or something that is other than themselves. They try to use something else, other than themselves, the thing that makes them special.

For many photographers, that ‘special’ was the hardwon knowledge and experiences that defined them.

Has the ‘special’ been lost to the everyman? Maybe.

Or maybe the ‘everyman’ now has a chance at being special.

It is all a matter of perspective, I think.

Anyway, that’s how I see it after sitting on a plane for 5 hours…

And remember the Wacky contest…

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