Photographers Are Increasingly Drawn From The Haute Bourgeoisie

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…photography is becoming a career for rich kids – who can endure the droughts with a hand-out from Daddy. Anyone from a needier background need not bother. And this, I think, is rather sad, because photography used to be a great social ladder – look at the brilliant careers of working class ‘60s snappers like Bailey and McCullin. Now that social ladder has been kicked away.

via Why are today’s columnists and photographers so posh? – Telegraph Blogs.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. According to Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist, photography as an occupation has always been based on social factors. Yes, rich kids have an advantage. But social factors go beyond just material wealth. People that grow up in conditions of privilege develop a sense of ease and confidence that aids them when it comes to self-promotion. So, even if a rich kid becomes a photographer without any serious financial aid from his family, he is still at an advantage simply because he’ll be less awkward in professional social situations than someone from a less privileged background.

    Currently, photography is not judged by any objective standards of craftsmanship or connections to the formal elements of art. Since there are no formal standards, then there is essentially no way to judge talent in photography except by social popularity. Basically, professional photography is a popularity contest. Obviously, people from privilege will have an advantage in this type of environment.

    Most people that find success in photography do not like to attribute it to social factors. So, they tend to emphasize vague notions of “talent” etc as a means of downplaying any of their entitlements. People from humble backgrounds also prefer to explain success based on a vague notion of talent because then they feel that their actual social origin doesn’t matter. In other words, there is a vicious cycle taking place where the successful photographers that want to downplay the effect of their own social privilege on their professional success find a sympathetic audience with people that have no social privilege. Talent then because a sort of mythical magical explanation for success as if background had no influence whatsoever. Rich kids thrive on vague notions of talent because it allows them to claim success due to “natural ability.”

    The only way to change the situation is to find and adopt objective standards of craftsmanship and form in photography. If there is an objective standard, then talent can be measured by something other than social factors which will allow people from poorer backgrounds to compete on a level playing field with people from wealthier backgrounds. Ironically, form in the arts is generally viewed as elitists. But the exact opposite is the case. Objective formal standards in the arts are the most egalitarian standards of all.

  2. @Mike, “Currently, photography is not judged by any objective standards of craftsmanship or connections to the formal elements of art. ”
    I do not agree with this. Photography has a number of objective standards. Fortunately, photographers also have the ability to bypass these standards, either by ignorance or by mean. So do other artists (just think about painting and music enthusiasts).
    Bu I do agree with the fact; many photographers are, basically, “rich kids”. We can find other reasons:
    - it used to be quite costly (before being a pro, you usually are an enthusiast);
    - it takes an entrepreneurial mentality, especially in a highly competitive time;
    - “art is not for people like us” sounds familiar to anyone who regularly talks with people from the so-called labor class.
    - let’s be paranoid : art, creativity, crafts, are expressions of freedom (I am not referring to some kind of “freedom of judgement”, but rather to freedom as an act in a context, as Hannah Arendt defines it). Some leaders may think that labor classes are here to work, not create. Some leaders may think that these creative activities should be kept confidential, some kind of private garden of a certain elite. They expose them as recreative activities, at best, useless ones, most of the time. Schools reflect this opinion by systematically promoting technical skills instead of creative ones and, worst of all, by opposing creativity and technique, when either ones are useless without the other one.
    Creativity is the essence of life, the initial pulse, the “raison d’être”. Economy, industries, commerce, technology AND arts need creativity.
    Teach it, free it, promote it, and the social ladder will work far better, not just as far as photography is concerned.

  3. Donnor Party

    This is true for most culter jobs today. The cost of living in cultural centers, at least in the USA, combined with low or no pay for extended periods, is a real drag. This applies to writers, journos, shooters, musicians, even entry level jobs at ad agencies and think tanks.

    Entry level copywriter at a large ad agency in NYC? Like $20k a year. No one does this without parental support.

    • Madonna has a pretty good interview in November’s Harper’s Bazaar about her early struggles to survive in NYC as an artist with no money of her own. Some pretty grim and harrowing stuff–even if only halfway true. If anything, I’d say NYC is much better today than back when she arrived there.

      • Exactly who is it better for Tim? How is it easier to find an apt, excuse me, I meant to say… room (let alone the money to pay for either).

      • Maybe you have to live in Brooklyn now, but my point was, NYC has never been an easy, affordable place to live. And at least now it’s much safer and more upbeat than the late 1980s when I was there.

        • NYC has never (ever) been easy, but unbeknownst to many, it was an affordable place at one time- even for working slobs. When my parents first arrived in the early ’50s, they lived in a cold water flat for $15 a month- in SOHO. Even in the mid seventies you could find apartments in Loisaida for $700- you’d get robbed of everything you had, but at least it was theoretically feasible. Then Wall St. greed stepped in, along with artists, “the shock troops of gentrification.”

          By the end of the ’70s, even SRO’s were non existent. Now you need a Swiss bank account- even in Brooklyn… and that’s nothing to say of all the poor that have been displaced to god knows where…

  4. Being from a wealthy (and connected) background also provides entre into the correct social circles for success. Want to get your work seen by the most influential people? Even in the age of social media, it still helps to have connections to the key people.

    • Donnor Party

      Assuming that your wealthy parents have art connections and not hedge fund connections.

  5. Going back to being a career for rich kids, after briefly being available to people of more modest means, would probably be a more accurate look at the situation.

  6. Actually, at the end, everyone who tries to do his best no matter his parents are, become a best professionalist of a field he wants to be best in.
    It all depends on the strength of desire and invested effort.

    • Anna baby, I’m glad things worked out for ya, really! But for every talented person who worked their ass off to success (and got lucky), there’s a long (long) line of equally, and sometimes even more talented people, who worked just as hard (if not harder), weren’t lucky, and got Nowhere for their effort.

      Yes, talent, Hard Work, AND a certain amount of luck (or connections, either serve the same purpose) are All, very much necessary.

      As for making your own luck, read history, better yet, look around you- a long, hard look…