What Will Happen to Professional Photographers?

5 Dec ’06

Dan Gillmor writes about the fate of professional photographers and videographers in an age of user-generated content – what will happen to the pros, he wonders, when content creation is democratized? Whether photojournalist or videographer, immediacy and authenticity are virtues alongside artistic quality, and there are many more events to record, and citizen journalists, than there are pros. It seems clear that many pros are going to get squeezed out – a lot of content that has been created by people with more equipment than ability is going to be displaced, and those 10,000,000 typing monkeys are inevitably going to produce some interesting work. We may well see immediacy and authenticity displacing creative quality to some extent as well – it’s happening in print; there’s no reason to suppose it won’t also happen in photo and video. But quality will always matter, and paradoxically may even come to matter more.

Gillmor seems to be particularly concerned about the risk of fakery from the rise of the amateur: “democratized media tools also include easy and cheap ways to fake or alter reality.” Maybe, but undemocratized media tools are pretty good at that too. Who can forget Clifford Irving, after all. And when it comes to photo fakery, the pros seem to be pretty accomplished already – a recent doctored photo of Beirut by Reuters’ photographer Adnan Hajj being only the most recent example. Fakery, incidentally, that was spotted by this same democratized media market; a pretty powerful disincentive, one would think, to your garden variety fakery (a lesson that also brought down Dan Rather after the ‘sphere raised questions about the authenticity of documents reported on by Rather that cast doubt on President Bush’s National Guard service), and perhaps a quick path, as GIllmor himself acknowledges, to tools that will help manage this problem.

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