Commitment to photography ≠ commitment to photographers

With apologies to the Beatles, I heard the news today… and oh boy.

Sports Illustrated has announced it’s laid off its six remaining staff photographers. It would be hard to argue that photography is important to the magazine. Photographs have played a role in the magazine since its inception. Even as the focus of the magazine has shifted, photography has been featured on the cover and inside the magazine’s pages.

Now the publication has joined a line of those who have decided that while photography is desirable, maintaining those who create the photographs is not. In an article on the National Press Photographers Association’s site, SI’s director of photography, Brad Smith, confirms that economic circumstances led to elimination of the staff photographers’ jobs.

What’s interesting is that Smith also says the magazine’s commitment to photography hasn’t changed. SI will still cover games and tournaments, will present portraits of athletes, and so on, it just will be doing it with photographers who are working independently. Photographs, yes. Photographers, not so much.

It was pointed out to me that freelancers are always cheaper. I’m sure they are, at least in the short-term. But it seems to me that if your “commitment to photography is as strong as ever”(as Smith says),  it shouldn’t be a stretch to maintain a commitment to the people who make the photographs.

A new semester, and advice from Hunter S. Thompson

We start a new semester of classes at the university today. I’ve lost track of how many “first days” this makes, but they’re always enjoyable. There’s hope and promise of what’s about to come, even in the midst of winter.

I’m also using it as an occasion to renew attention to this blog. So far there’s been a somewhat consistent pattern of renewed energy, followed by conflicting demands for attention followed by inactivity here. It’s not that the vision is inconsistent. Finding topics to write about however……

In that spirit I’m taking some words from Hunter S. Thompson as inspiration. In an entry on the Petapixel blog today, Michael Zhang presented a letter Thompson wrote to Pop Photo magazine in 1962, responding to an article the magazine had published. In the letter, Thompson talked about feeling at one time after being in New York like one shouldn’t take a picture without the benefit of professional instruction and top-end equipment. The technical details of how photography works overtakes the purpose of photography.

In the letter I read this quote: “When photography gets so technical as to intimidate people, the element of simple enjoyment is bound to suffer.” 

That’s applicable to both teaching and blogging at the beginning of this new semester. One can overthink what students are supposed to get out of the class and overlook the enjoyment of recognizing their growth. One can get so consumed in having profound words to say about a topic and overlook the pleasure of just sharing something interesting.

You can read Thompson’s whole letter on the Petapixel post.

So, with Hunter’s words in mind, we’ll pick up the vision.