The Death of Celebrity Photography

Photographer and artist Tyler Shields has announced in a short video that "celebrity photography is dead." No stranger to divisive statements, Shields is exploring the discussion around the democratization of photography and the implications of a new generation of celebrity photographers creating images of themselves and others. Of course, Shields is drawing us in with a clickbait title, but it's worth noting that he does this with a knowing sense of irony given that he is discussing the superficial world of celebrity. His capacity for self-publicity is as powerful as his photography (and that is in no way intended as a criticism).

Shields asks the question of how any photographer can compete with the level of access and intimacy that a celebrity with a smartphone has to their own lives. Shields knows that you can't, and perhaps his style of working is an indication of how photographers should adapt: creating images that are outlandish creative, provocative, and, at times, confrontational (or, some would argue, borrowing heavily from other artists).

Shields also touches on the jealousy within the photography industry in response to the rise of celebrities themselves becoming photographers. With the democratization of the image, photography as a traditional career is under threat and has been for some time. However, photographers sometimes forget that, despite their knowledge and access to cutting-edge technology, they do not have a privileged right to the photograph. As much as we like to think otherwise, photography is rarely a meritocracy; a large proportion of photographers achieve success through who they are rather than the quality of their work. It's worth keeping in mind that the means by which a photograph is produced is as much a factor as a photograph's visual content.

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Studio 403's picture

The 19th century word “snollygoster” comes to mind when I think about Celebrities. I like this post Fstoppers. Well done. Welcome to Demoralized Democracy in photography . The ebb and flow of life moves on. Really, no big deal for me. Nothing is really dead, just in transition, unless you are talking about a floppy disk, but they make great coffee place mats. Century’s ago, actors were not buried in cementaries, Return to those good old days may come back someday. I would make great funeral photographer too. Remember, Celebrities are only known for being known. I hate to admit it, I am star struck too. And I get help from my sister, who is a stage mom for a up and coming actress/singer niece from a small town in Kentucky. To her credit, Starring role on Broadway in New York, Lead role in “We will rock you” play. Somebody has to be the low achiever in my family. Too wreck me more, my niece won’t let me shoot her too. I am so overly sensitive. I really don’t think much of myself , but that is all I think about.

Arber Elezi's picture

I Totally Agree.

Walid Azami's picture

I think the term celebrity should be examined, as at this point everyone is grabbing it. Having said that, he's right. What that means is that the photographers who shoot famous faces have to find ways to push the boundaries with their work, the face isn't enough. It doesn't mean more filters and expensive gear. It means, you give the viewer access to a part of the celebrity even they haven't yet seen themselves. It requires thought, research, intuition and guts to show them in a way that may not be popular. Yes, the ingredients have always been the same. It's more than just filters & fame, it actually requires talent. The celebrity has access to cameras of course, but they don't have access to a POV we have. They see themselves through an eye that isn't truthful. That's our job, to show something thought provoking. Look at the celebrities on Instagram... Have you seen their feeds? Dreadful. What he means to say is, "celebrity photography for those relying on hype is dead". Those that want to capture cultural figures must do so with great thought, and that's no different than ever before. All the democratization of photography did was let the talented ones rise to the top. Everyone else will sink.

John Dawson's picture

Like many things, photography is being homogenized. That will eventually lead to some "retro renaissance" that will bring things back to some sense of what used to be normalcy.

Matthew Saville's picture

Everybody should read Dr Drew Pinsky's "The Mirror Effect"

Rex Larsen's picture

Who cares what Tyler Shields thinks ?
Does he actually get assignments ? Where is he published ?

Leigh Smith's picture

I hope you're joking

Jose Recinos's picture

He shoots what he wants to shoot only. He makes a living selling his prints mostly.

Rex Larsen's picture

Mr. Shields is entitled to his opinion and this is a bit of marketing.
If he's makes a living selling prints I give him a lot of credit. I see occasional gimmick photos from him.

Jose Recinos's picture

I totally understand where you are coming from. I read a Vice article about him copying others and such but even without those images I really dig 80% of his work. Master marketer for sure.

ron fya's picture

What he says is actually applicable to photography as a business in general: you cannot have a business anymore by simply "taking portraits of people". Cause most of the people are ok to do it with their smartphone. You need to propose something that has value regardless of what camera is used and that they cannot think of it and/or reproduce easily.

Matthew Saville's picture

Is it a faux pas to post low-class memes on a high-end photography website? Because I'm really feeling this one right now...

Rob Robinson's picture

Tyler shields and clickbait? Why I never...

Jon Winkleman's picture

Tyler Sheilds is full of s#!t. First he is a celebrity photographer. Secondly his body of work plagerizes that of other well known photographers. Shields is a huckster who sells snake oil to art collectors who are ignorant of past art photography. I'm sure he knows that his unoriginal rip offs of everyone else mean art historians will consider him an irrelevant footnote in art history and not someone worthy of being recorded in a future chronicle of the history of art photography.

Joshua Ball's picture

Celebrity photographer says there is no such thing as a celebrity photography, and subsequently gets a ton of press for it. I love Tyler's work but you have to see the irony in that.

Harold Blum's picture

Technology is creating a difficult environment for many professions. Google has replaced trips to the doctor's office for a sick child when a parent enters "my child has a 102 degree fever will they die?" Zillow tells home seller's what their home is worth and Redfin offers to make it happen for 1% Anyone with a point and shoot or an iPhone can do the headshot for the digital resume. The spirit of this to me is OWN your value and sell it. Be the creative you are and don't waste time on people who don't value and want to pay for the work. I enjoy photography as a hobby and do some paid gigs but the only time I give away my time is for charity work...and that is the best deal in the world for me. Giving back and doing what I love.