Are Smartphones Really Better Than Some Professional Photographers?

Are Smartphones Really Better Than Some Professional Photographers?

Time-honored English fashion and portrait photographer David Bailey is 81. His prominent heyday was a time that now seems remote — one of a young Mick Jagger and the four Beatles. Now Bailey himself thinks that the day of the star professional photographer is gone forever.

A recently featured "Daily Mail" article reports Bailey's views on the current state of photography. It covers the photographer during a promotional appearance in London for his new book. Bailey tells the interviewer:

I think it's so over, that star photographer thing has gone. Like in everything. There's no star fashion person any more, it's all spread out.

During that same appearance, Bailey is reported saying that many people (including his wife) are posting cell phone photos on Instagram that are "better" than his own. That's an observation that comes off as jilted, yet humble at the same time.

While such comments may sound like dismissive grousing from an old curmudgeon, you can hear them more meaningfully by putting yourself in Bailey’s shoes. His path to stardom wasn't paved in gold. He made his way from a working-class neighborhood in East England through a spotty education hampered by failure to diagnose his dyslexia and motor skill disorder. Strongly attracted to photography, he finally caught his break with a job shooting for British Vogue in 1960. He didn't simply fall into his fame after posting iPhone photos of his restaurant dishes on a whim.

Bailey moved on from high-profile portraits to producing television series and commercials, later opening his own fashion line in the ‘70s. It's not unthinkable for a modern-day photographer to move up the ranks to new fields and greater heights. Many accomplished shooters become entrepreneurs who develop unique gear modifiers, software, or even break into the highly competitive film industry.

Is the day of the "star photographer" really over, or is it still evolving? No doubt rising stars will shine, perhaps in new cultural orbits or via media we haven’t even seen yet.

What's your reaction to Bailey's views on the current state of photography? Please leave them in the comments section below.

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7 Comments

I don't believe his comment has anything to do with HOW the images are taken. IMHO, he's simply commenting on the vantage point of another person has unique merit.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Well, your title really had nothing to do with what he said. I think HIS point has to do more with the fact that the fashion world is so decentralized compared to the 60’s, when everything happened in only a few major cities and a small cadre of photographers were flown all over the world to shoot the collections and everything in between. The budgets for that have evaporated, and as a result more opportunities have come to regional photographers. The time of capturing the look of an era thru the vision of a handful of people (who did become stars as a result) is gone forever. And has nothing to do with smartphones.

Scott Mason's picture

Your comment on the fashion industry makes sense in relation to the "I think it's over..." quote. I was addressing a different quote, though, which was paraphrased in my article after the first one. Here's the link to the original article, if you're interested: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7717767/Smartphones-photographe...

Dana Goldstein's picture

I read the original article - it was also linked at the bottom of yours. He was asked relative to the passing of Terry O’Neill.

Robert Herrera's picture

There was a time when professional photography was reserved for the wealthy and for special occasions, where the budget for the photographer would rival that of the food and drink. But now.. with the invention of the camera phone and budget friendly consumer cameras, opening up a path for the photo hobbyist parent to start booking sessions, the professional photographer is becoming less and less of a staple in the community. I can personally only think of two photo studios still open.. and they mainly deal with schools for the bulk of their business. Ironically.. the reduction of professional photographers has forced them to raise their fees and once again, only being available to those who can afford them. So what does that mean for everyone else? The saturation of cell phones cameras and weekend warrior photographers has left you with cheap and mediocre images. Because no matter how good the camera might be, does you no good if the person taking the photo is shit.

Kevin Omura's picture

There appears to be a typo in the title of this article, it should have read, ' Are Smartphones Really Better Than Some Professional Cameras?' Do todays smartphones allow anyone to capture a good photograph, absolutely but the implication that the device can somehow autonomously make 'art' every time is, well not really the case.

Granted one day I suspect someone will use the GPS in your phone to guide you to the best photo spot at major tourist traps (think Kodak photospots), perhaps even upload a publication grade image to your phone when you click the button instead of you capturing the moment.

Photography is about seeing so I absolutely embrace technology that takes most of the challenge of exposure and possibly focus out of the equation and allows the photographer to concentrate on composition and the decisive moment is a win for me. The cell phone I just upgraded to I got due to it's camera, didn't really care how the phone worked other than it allowed me to make and receive old fashioned voice calls.... but the camera part was the deal maker.

I don't really see the difference from then to now. It is just a different problem to get to the top. Back then you had to have the money to shoot... the cost of gear and film and then learning the skills was probably harder. Today the information and gearis so readily accesable that now you really have to be skilled and practice more than your competition. So many people are taking photos but how many are actually trying to learn the new skills compared to the amount that are actually out in the world? How many take the time to learn how to network and work their way up? A lot of photographers i know think they are good but are actually ether lucky, or just think they are good. It is different problems to make it to the star skill. A few photographers like you guys, slr, videographers like peter mckinnon are all still stars today and they worked hard to get there.