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.
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?
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.
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.