Photography Princess or Princess Photographer?
A photographer was recently “recognized” and “honored” by a well-established, been-around photography institution. This recognition and honor were covered by various news outlets online and possibly offline ( sorry I don’t really look at offline news anymore ).
That would be that except this photographer also happens to be a “princess”. Yes. In 2017. Which is cool really – she is married to a “prince”, so it figures.
Celebrities and popular individuals are usually held to higher standards. Higher than what would be applicable to regular blokes like me for example. We, the audience, and fellow-photographers are far more critical of the work produced by those who are perceived to be celebrities – the ones we consider famous for being famous.
More than half the criticism that the news of this recognition is getting is directed more at her “status” than her photography skills or lack thereof.
I’m not denying the possibility that the photographic institute might have bestowed her with this honor purely to suck up to the royal family. I’m saying that it’s good – in a way. Perspective is everything.
I believe, younger girls who see her as an idol already – for the coverage she receives in international press – mostly for the babies she’s birthed or the fashion she carries or the jewellery she wear, will now also see her as a “photographer”. Some of these young girls might decide to take up photography as their career of choice. And this feeds into the growth of the industry.
Instead of only wanting to look like her and marry like her and produce offspring like her, they might want to become photographers.
Considering how fast this industry is growing and how quickly technology is changing, we need new blood infusions. New points of view and new approaches to what is otherwise not a very old profession. Simply put, we need the publicity.
In a country like India, where even walking on the streets is a courageous thing to do – if you’re a woman – questions like, “But how does your husband allow you to do photography on your own?” are routinely fielded by women like me. I hate using “woman photographer” but it is a sad reality that women photographers are considered anomalies.
Most of the criticism has been that this recognition is a disservice to the many other photographers who are a LOT more talented than this princess is. The fear is that it might attract ridicule to the profession. I say that as it is there are but a handful of photographers, internationally, who put their lives at risk to bring photographs of conflict and human rights violations to the rest of the world. Apart from these photographers, the rest of us – including me – can claim, at best, that we add beauty to the lives of others. If we had to find a noble way in which to represent what we do.
But apart from that, if photography as a profession ceased to exist tomorrow, the world would go on unaffected. It would be affected a little – how would we record memories?! Oh no! But no one will die.
I see these criticisms stemming from an existing sense of insecurity about our profession. We know we’re no great shakes and giving recognition to a Princess further exposes this to our audience. That it outs the secret that anyone can be a photographer. That’s the big secret. Anyone can indeed become a photographer and you don’t even need to be exceptionally talented to receive an award or recognition or paying clients.
You could be a less than mediocre photographer for your entire photography career and you can still run a more-than-decently-financially-viable business. You operate on volume and you provide a fixed-rate service to local clientele and your ambition is locked into this physical shop that you have in the local market.
The barrier-to-entry into the photography industry has always been low. All you need is a camera and a website. Proceed to shoot, edit, share and invest time in uploading to social media channels and you’re good to go. I’m not being sarcastic. It’s true. Sustaining – actually making money in the long run – might be an uphill battle but it isn’t impossible.
There are so many photography awards online these days. There’s a minimum application fee in some cases. If you don’t apply for this award, how do you get it? And why do you even need an award? Apart from external validation that your work might be worth something, the award – unless it is accompanied by a huge sum of money – will not change your fortunes overnight.
Most of us have had to work very hard to come to a point in our careers where we feel comfortable with the progress, evolution and money. Most of us have little to no recognition. Our external validation is based on the number of paying clients we are able to acquire yearly. So it is natural to be jealous of someone else receiving recognition, especially when we see them as a lot more privileged than us.
I know of more than a few professional women models and magazine editors and music celebrities in India who have either taken up full-time photography or practice it on the side when they work on some paid client gigs. I always a feel a pang of jealousy because I too make the assumption that they already have these “contacts” or this network they’ve built based on their previous professions. But I’ve had privileges too. I was lucky to have started blogging in 2004, when most in India weren’t even on the internet. That wasn’t an accomplishment – I just happened to be in the right situation at the right time. How I took advantage of that is where pride or accomplishment toward any sort of achievement comes in.
The Princess probably doesn’t need this recognition. Photography, on the other hand, does need her on our side. To get more people interested in what we do – and not just potential talent but also potential buyers and clients. “Oh! Princess Kate Middleton is a photographer also? I wonder what’s happening in the field of photography these days?” I know it sounds ridiculous but that’s probably because you’re a photographer yourself or have *some* connection with the photography industry. Most of the planet’s population does not.
The conversation around this piece of news is welcome. I’d also like to see some more balanced points-of-view instead of just the old guard screaming at the unfairness and how she isn’t even such a good photographer. Maybe this is all the impetus she needed to start polishing her skills as a photographer even more? Maybe this is how she will get more involved with the profession in the UK and maybe support new talent?
I could be wrong of course. The above is what I believe anyway.
She isn’t a Photography Princess but a Princess who is also a photographer.
( This piece is about Kate Middleton being commended by the Royal Photographic Society for her Family Portraits. The Duchess of Cambridge was offered – and she accepted – lifetime Honorary Membership to The Royal Photographic Society. )