While in North Carolina last week, one of the books I read was On Being a Photographer an interview of David Hurn by Bill Jay. I was struck by the discussion about how Hurn wanted to be labeled as a photographer. That is, the specific descriptive term that best conveyed the kind of photography for which he wanted to be known.

I’ve thought about this alot myself. The way you name what you do is an important part of self identity. I used to just describe myself as a photographer, plain and simple. But the medium is anything but plain and simple. In other mediums, the situation seems different. If one were to say “I am a sculptor”,  or “I am a painter” they would be recognized as artists and would probably be questioned as to the kind of sculpture or painting made. With photography, people tend to say “oh, you do weddings?”, or “what publication do you work for?” They often assume a certain occupation more than an artistic endeavor. The fact that people dismiss wedding and publication work as an art form is another problem (but not one for here).

Photography is both an art form and a commercial tool, so it is meaningful to be specific in the title applied. I’ve considered rather specific titles like Nature Photographer, Fine Art Photographer, Outdoor Photographer. These names all have connotations that I don’t like. First, I do not photograph only nature subjects. Also, both Nature Photographer and Outdoor Photographer are magazine names and I don’t want to confuse who I am with those publications. I thought Fine Art Photographer would be fine, but it sounded a bit presumptuous.

I’ve finally settled on Artist-Photographer for now, but even here wonder whether people will think I photograph artists. It is difficult as I am not a news photographer, nor a sports photographer. I’m not a portrait photographer, nor a wedding photographer (although I do both of these on occasion). I don’t do food photography, advertising photography, corporate photography ( although my work has been used in corporate settings and advertisements). I don’t do product photography, crime photography, medical photography, nor astro-photography.

I photograph to make a statement about the things that excite me visually – usually nature but not always. My work is primarily for people’s homes and offices. Maybe, I’m a Wall Photographer? Nah, I know people who photograph walls (usually with windows and doors).

How about – Artistworkinginthemediumofphotography ?

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6 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. This problem isn’t limited to photographers. I was reading an article about a painter, who sells his work for bucket-loads. But recently when someone asked what he does, and he said “painter”, they asked for an estimate to do their living room. I believe he said $300,000. 🙂

    I go through this same question myself. I guess I change labels depending on the circumstances. If I want to sound artsy and cool, I say I’m an artist. If I want to sound more businessy, I say I’m a photographer and designer. Or small business owner. But probably most often I do what you do, and say “I’m an artist and photographer”.

  2. Tammbrey,

    Since I wrote this I have come across an old postcard of a photographer who described himself as “Artist at Photography”. Kind of elegant. Thanks for sharing!

  3. You make some good points here that I hadn’t thought of before. I specialize in concert photography, but that’s not all I do. I think I may refer to that other branch as “artistic photography” from now on! Unless I can come up with something better ;p

  4. Thanks Paul.. This is a great post. It’s one of those titles that never really seems to completely fit. I do truly believe that photographers are artists. Photographers capture a moment in time in a photograph. They see what is in front of them and create masterful composition and like an artist you have a vision. That vision just might change at the particular moment your are setting up the shot.

    I like the term Artist at Photography, personally.

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