It's Time We Talked About Celebrities and Models Being Hired As Photographers

It's Time We Talked About Celebrities and Models Being Hired As Photographers

It’s simply impossible to ignore the change our industry is undergoing. The wide availability of industry-standard equipment has seen an uprise of people pursuing photography as a career. Photographers are battling against many threats to their careers; increasingly, celebrities who are trying their luck behind the camera. Be it models, socialites, or the rich and famous, people who are not renown for their photographic skills are increasingly booking jobs ahead of established professionals. So are those of us who work behind the lens full-time being made redundant? Can anyone be a photographer these days? It’s time to discuss.

The creative industry is an ever-changing one. Varying trends, changing client expectations, the demand for photos vs videos – sometimes it’s hard to keep up. Technological advances in particular serve a continual threat to photographers, as industry-standard photo equipment continues to become cheaper to purchase and is more widely accessible than ever. Not to mention being social media savvy across endless different platforms is more essential than ever for a business to thrive. But one phenomenon that’s been met with much dismay is the surge in celebrity culture and its apparent infiltration of our industry. It started when famous faces began replacing models at the forefront of fashion publications, although more recently, we’ve seen increasing examples of celebrities trying their hand behind the camera. W Magazine recently listed model newbie Bella Hadid as a "model-turned-photographer," in reporting on the editorial they had also commissioned her to shoot.

The header of a recent W Magazine article

How much do they actually do?

The bottom line is, whatever the logic behind the selection process involved in casting a celebrity as a photographer, no self-respecting publication would risk featuring sub-par images by having an inexperienced and inadequate photographer shoot for them. Even despite being safe in the knowledge that the attachment of any famous face that has an army of fans would help shift copies, is it really worth the risk of being subject to ridicule from their industry peers if they put out poor-quality images?

This begs the question of just how much creative control one would be granted as a celebrity name shooting a campaign or feature with little knowledge of how a camera actually works. It’s no secret that many of the famous folk that have been enlisted for editorials have previously showed no great interest in the art of photo-taking. When I initially reported that Brooklyn Beckham had been chosen to shoot the new Burberry campaign back in January, the reaction of the Fstoppers community was mixed at best. Even with my extensive Googling, I was unable to find anything in the way of a photography portfolio from Beckham, despite him having landed many a photographer’s dream job. There are a couple of comments from dad David in interviews, suggesting he’s always had an interest in photography. But what substance does that really add to his credentials, given there’s zero evidence across Brooklyn’s social media pages?

 

Bella Hadid turns photographer in a behind-the-scenes video for W Magazine

So what gives? Could it really be so obvious – that fashion houses are enlisting celebrity names solely as a means of drawing attention to their new campaign? Is their presence within a campaign being exaggerated? Are these overnight-photographers simply pressing the shutter button, whilst a team of assistants around them arranges light changes and sources locations? I wonder how many could tell you what a basic technical term like ISO stands for, or the effects of increasing it has on a photo. Not particularly complex terminology – but at the same time, in-depth knowledge of either isn’t required in order to take what one could consider to be a competent photo.

In a similar sense, The Mirror recently mocked Love Magazine for sacking off a journalist in favour of having model friends Cara Delevingne and Kendall Jenner interview each other. To summarise what they claim was learned in the interview, it so happens Kendall would "rather drink her own pee than have someone fart in her mouth," and that she can’t pick whether she prefers day or night (“it’s hard”).

In July of this year, Love Magazine also granted Kendall a 10-page spread, in which she took on the role of photographer in order to shoot a fashion editorial with Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber as her subject (who was a mere 14 years old at the time, but that’s an entirely different discussion altogether). It’s alleged that Crawford herself even took over the role of hair and makeup artist, meaning that not a single specialist (ie, someone that does this for a living) played a role in the entire spread.

Are we being too judgmental?

Kendall, I’m told, has at least shown an interest in photography before. Refinery29 claim Love Magazine’s editor-in-chief Katie Grand invited Kendall to try her hand behind her hand after noticing "artful posts" on her Instagram.

So is it unfair to write off a potential photographer simply because of the family they were born into, or because they’ve made a name for themselves through another medium? In many ways, it’s perhaps a curse being born into a wealthy or well-known family. Unlike most of us, you don’t get to begin your career with a clean slate. Instead, you’ll find there’s always a stigma attached, usually setting you up to face criticism from photographers who have worked their way from the bottom up, no matter what you do or how integral you do it. Many will discredit your worth by simply claiming that everything you’ve achieved can be attributed to who your parents are, and people like Jenner or Beckham will never be taken seriously by many working photographers. But the truth is, many of these celebrities will have accumulated more set-time than a lot of photographers. Referring back to Cara Delevingne, for example, who has been the face of just about every fashion house you can think of. Seriously, she’s everywhere, and is even starring in Hollywood blockbusters (Suicide Squad, anyone?). Nobody can spend that much time on set and not have acquired some sort of interest or knowledge into behind-the-scenes goings-on. Likewise, Jenner has been doing photoshoots since she was around 10 years old to promote her family’s TV show.

 

Making a conscious business decision

When reports of Brooklyn Beckham being chosen to shoot the new Burberry campaign surfaced back in January, it certainly riled the photo community. Some were quick to throw praise on the results, while others questioned how much help and assistance Brooklyn may have received in order to produce the images. With little prior indication of an interest in photography, attention soon turned to reasons Brooklyn was chosen to lead this campaign. Which, we can rest assured, is likely down to having famous parents, with an Instagram following in the millions to match.

So should we be mad at Burberry for allowing this to happen? Think of it this way. We all use social media to promote ourselves and our businesses, be that photography or otherwise. It’s a free tool that we can operate from our phones and computers in order to advertise our work and the service we’re offering. Through the use of tags and hashtags, photographers all over the world do it every day. Most of my photographer friends are adamant about being tagged in their subject’s photos or captions – it’s become a modern currency. So is it really much different when Burberry do the same? They were well aware of the press (be it good or bad) that enlisting Brooklyn would ignite. Prime example being here I now am writing a second article about the very topic. Regardless of whether Brooklyn is a seasoned pro or had a team of Burberry’s in-house creative elite guiding his way, the results were delivered and it was undoubtedly a business-savvy move for all involved.

On location, lining up the first shot @BrooklynBeckham for #THISISBRIT

A post shared by Burberry (@burberry) on

In a world as fickle and rapidly-changing as the creative one, we can’t afford to be snooty over the changes happening to our industry. It’s the same with musicians: either incorporate aspects of the current on-trend sounds into your music, or risk being left behind. Creative brands must too evolve.

Between the rise of Youtubers and the demise of many print publications, it’s naïve to deny that change is ongoing. We’re seeing the term "Influencer" being used more frequently to describe someone with a large social media following. Brands endorsing a celebrity as their campaign photographer is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties in the fight to stay ever-relevant.

 

Where does this leave us?

Celebrity culture has infiltrated many corners of the industry. In the current climate, it’s as much about the names working on the project, as it is the quality of the final product. Anyone who has picked up a leading fashion magazine in the past few years will see the likes of Harry Styles (Anotherman) and Kim Kardashian (Vogue) selected as the cover stars, as opposed to the supermodels of eras past.

Is it really fair? No.  But we can’t blame brands for making business-conscious decisions – and that’s exactly what’s happening here. Only time will tell the effect this will have on the future of what it means to be a photographer.

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24 Comments

I'm just going to leave this right here...... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO40gcbwgd4

Play it a few times and focus on YOURSELF, trust me.....These "celebrity photographer wannabes" will seem like rubbish.

Michael Comeau's picture

The real takeaway is simple: The Mad Men era is dead.

Marketing and advertising are increasingly quantitative disciplines.

Big companies do business on spreadsheets, not instincts.

And using a celebrity is a guaranteed way to boost ad impressions, brand visibility, and in turn, dollars.

Brooklyn Beckham gets more clicks than Peter Lindbergh. It's really that simple.

But the "Celebrification" of photography probably doesn't affect 99.999% of photographers.

How many photographers are actually in the running to land a Burberry campaign?

Maybe 5?

10?

These are interesting anecdotes, but of all the problems facing photographers, celebs with cameras probably doesn't rank very high.

Very well put Michael! .......And that is exactly why I say focus on yourself.

Anonymous's picture

"focus on yourself" thats the best advice i've ever seen on this site. Photographers have a tendency to worry about other photographers far too much. If they put that time and effort into their own work they would be farther along than they are at the moment.

Joseph Drago's picture

Exactly! 1%ers taking pictures of 1%ers which is displacing jobs of the 1%ers in the photography community. I may have a problem with it when they come to Nederland Texas taking my real estate and headshot clients but honestly, I don't see that happening...EVER! I have better things to do with my time than worry about the lives of the 1%ers of this world.

Scott Basile's picture

An unlimited budget, technical support, and access to top models and retouchers. Anyone can release a shutter and make a solid image in that circumstance. Back that with huge social media following and you have the recipe for a successful campaign. We'll be seeing lots more of this in the future I'd guess.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

The photos are not bad, probably a lot of hand holding BTS but today, followers and a being an influencer is more important than anything else. Look at yesterdays news about Casey Neistat. CNN paid $25 million for his 6 million followers. He can do nothing for the next few years but CNN et al will mine and monetize his fans.
Are there better photogs than the celebs you mention, sure but none are as connected as a Kardashian. Companies are guaranteed millions of eyeballs when Beckham, Styles or Jenner shoots something.

Anonymous's picture

I agree with your point but CNN has said that Casey can still maintain and create content with his youtube channel and that is not affiliated with them. They bought the Beme app and it's team. Not Casey as a whole brand. I'm sure they are banking on using his popularity but he can still create content outside of CNN

It's just marketing. Mr. Comeau is absolutely correct in observing it is all about numbers, green numbers. This fad will pass and the need for good, reliable, quality photographers will still be there.

I think that these magazines, clothing manufactures, ad agencies are appealing to their demographics. Certainly, having a Jenner, Kardashian, Beckham or other celebrity offspring won't influence my purchase decision.

Anonymous's picture

Man I couldn't care less about this haha. Is it really that bad in our industry? I mean actors/actress' go into directing/writing all the time. Does that mean they are taking jobs away from other filmmakers? no.

I don't see Brooklyn Beckham coming to my city and stealing my clients. most of us are completely unaffected by this.

seems silly to worry about.

Marcus Rönne's picture

Adapt or die.

Jack Alexander's picture

My sentiments exactly. Wish I'd ended on that!

Michael Rapp's picture

Well, this article leaves me with a notion of... so what?!
Actors have taken a seat in the director's chair, everybody is inclined to start a singing career, no matter what his or her qualification may be and I may be the only person left on the planet who hasn't written a book - yet.
Photography is by no means the only field of expressed creativity into which other folks trickle into, celeb status or no.
Do I hear the author's guild, the actor's guild or any other organisation hear whining about it?
No, guess not. It's just a fact of life and should motivate us to set our work that much farther apart from the celebrity Uncle Bobs.

Franck Budynek's picture

Associate the Daz washing powder with a Whirlpool washing machine and you get yourself an ad campaign AND clean clothes… Associate a self-serving brand like "Beckham" with a nobody-in-their-right-mind--want-anymore-such-a-tacky-brand like "Burberry" and you get yourself a Trump card for a smell of "Success®"… Tweets, clicks, buzz, likes and posts are converted into green paper.

Or I am just shallow minded and I can't care less … which, to be fair, could be a reasonable assessment…

Why is it an issue if a model becomes a photographer? Actors become directors, and while celebrity may open the door, they don't get the chair more than once if they don't deliver. Redford, Allen and a host of others are stunning directors, and no wonder -- they come from the set and watch it happen. It's not surprising that models learn about photo production -- they're sitting in the middle of it. A good example is Peter Hurley, who admits he had a LOT to learn, but started in front of the camera.

If you think about it, it should be more surprising when someone takes off as a top-tier photographer after starting as a failed art student, surgeon or scuba diver. But, it happens.

IMO, have faith that ultimately those who can shoot will be those that get the main work, and those who can't will fall away. You can't blame people who use fame, if they have it, to launch their efforts -- in a competitive field, you use every angle you've got. Keep in mind that celebrities also use their fame to promote causes and political views, often with less background than they have for becoming directors or photographers.

Anonymous's picture

It is well, what it is. Money is the bottom line here, pun intended. And let's compare BTS videos of Mario Testino, Annie, or any other big time photographer to the celebrity photographers... A half dozen assistants have the whole set and lighting in place, the model walks out and someone hands the camera (with all settings dialed in) to the photographer. They direct the model and bit, take some photos, and hand the camera back to their assistant.

I'm not diminishing anyone's skill, but for these big budget shoots, the photographer plays one of the smallest roles in the overall production. Should it surprise anyone that the people underwriting these shoots have caught on and realize that _____ with X million followers adds more value than a photographer with a much smaller fan base? Especially if it garners much more attention and as a result sales?

I believe there is a difference between someone who calls themselves a photographer and someone that has a passion for this art. In this day and age any individual that has a smart phone and points it at someone or something truly believes they are a photographer. Anyone can capture an image. With very good computer software the image becomes a work of art. I believe this process cheapens the true art of photography. It is only my opinion that in order appreciate where the art of photography is today, you have to go back to a day when this art was first originated. Any person that has a passion for photography will see the image in their head ( pre-visualization ) before they raise the camera to their eye. Every else just point their cameras in the direction of the image they want to capture. Unless a celebrity attended a class for or attended a photography school they are not true artists. They just have the money to purchase the best equipment. However, they lack the knowledge or the passion to enjoy this art. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Korey Napier's picture

All I care about is the final product. If these people produce good images, than they are as credible as the "working pro." If their work isn't up to snuff, than I would think that would make the "real" photographers' work stand out even more. So, I feel like it's a win win either way. For what it's worth, I genuinely think that the picture Kendall Jenner took of Kaia Gerber is killer! I love the composition, pose and processing.

Dallas Dahms's picture

You are not a photographer. You are a hustler.

The better you hustle the more treats you earn. That's the way the world works and it doesn't matter what badge you wear on your lapel. Photographer, model, banker, baker, builder, salesman, whatever.

Nobody "owns" the right to call themselves something until they have proven they can do whatever it is they are working at. If somebody else out-hustles you don't get mad. Find out how they got to do that and then do it better than they can. David Bailey is a prime example. So is Rankin.

Kim Bentsen's picture

Where does this leave former models such as Nigel Barker and Peter Hurley?

Erin B.'s picture

Kind of non-issue. What is the difference between a Jenner or a Beckham getting the gig vs. some well established pro getting it? Either way I didn't get the gig. If the pro got it, what then? I move on to the next thing. The quality of what the advertiser is getting isn't my problem. I just need to worry about what i am able to do and constantly improving, staying creative etc.

Craig Tedeton's picture

While I certainly understand the question of this article and all of the "so what" comments, it is still a bit concerning for me. The fact some mentioned in this article simply have not put in any time, effort, money, frustration, etc to warrant the title Photographer. Just seems like the value of professionalism was pushed aside in favor of celebrity. IMHO

Just because these models take a million selfies all day of themselves and their friends, does not make them professional photographers. It makes them another human with a cellphone that can take a selfie, like the rest of the world. Just because you can make a grilled cheese in your kitchen, it doesn't automatically make you a chef. Get real everyone...