Ontario Journalist, Writer, Photography & Filmmaker

The Myth of the ‘Professional’ Photographer

Professional is not a word that should be used in connection with photography. No one should be called, or call themselves, a ‘professional photographer’.

In pretty much any other endeavour where the word ‘professional’ is used, there is some form of accreditation that accompanies it. Someone who went to law school, but didn’t sit the bar, or complete any necessary articling/internship requirement, cannot call themselves a lawyer. A ‘professional’ plumber has been educated and passed a series of exams/tests to become a plumber. A cook is not supposed to use the term ‘chef’ if s/he has not passed the necessary exams and doesn’t have the requisite practical experience to truly become a chef.

The world of cooking may be the closest corollary to photography. But even in the cooking world there are proper accreditation programs. No such thing exists in photography. Yes, there are university and college programs in photography. But there is no body like lawyers, or doctors, have that warrants you are educated, trained, knowledgeable and meet certain minimum standards of competency. Yes, there are private groups that purport to offer accreditation and designation, but they have not been vetted by an independent, government, or other regulating body, to state that these groups are offering a consistent and minimum level of training and skill development to be verified as being able to provide designation as a ‘professional photographer’. Anyone can set up a body called, oh, Photography Professionals of Lower Slobovia and offer training and ‘certificates’ of supposed competency. But there is no overriding body to state that, indeed, PPLS is, itself, accredited to offer such certificates and designations. Simply graduating from a university, or college, photography program does not automatically make one a ‘professional’ photographer.

Recently, I participated in a survey that asked, among other things, what my level of photographic knowledge was. The responses were: Beginner; Intermediate; Advanced; and Professional. I chose advanced. Because there really is no ‘professional’ level of knowledge. It is a myth. Like the multi-headed hydra, or Thor, the Norse god of thunder, the professional photographer is a myth. One that has been perpetuated for more than a century. And like most myths, it’s mystery and etherealness grows over time.

The myth of the ‘professional’ photographer is rivaled, only, and not coincidentally also photography-related, by the myth of the ‘Award-Winning’ photographer. Someone can win Most Improved Photographer in the photography club in a town of 25 with a club membership of 5 and they start marketing themselves as “Award Winning Photographer John Doe”. And many will.

Me? I’m a working photographer and that is what I will continue to be.