You do not need the technical knowledge nor an expensive piece of equipment to be a part of the photography community. Regardless of how subjectively bad your images may be considered, you still are invited, just like everyone else.
For "outsiders," it may seem like an elite club where only those whose cameras are valued at $1,000 or above are allowed an entry, or perhaps you need a degree or a photo competition medal as proof. They may take smartphone photos here and there but never call themselves a photographer, just someone who takes photos for fun. But, isn't that the whole point of pursuing photography? To have fun, to express yourself, to document moments of significance within our understanding and world view?
It may be a thing of past now or something I simply haven't encountered lately, but ever since the lockdown began, but I have been seeing photography become less and less intimidating and more welcoming to those who have never really considered it. There are no entry exams nor any requirements to become a photographer other than being able to create photographs with any piece of equipment you have on hand. I am sure snobbish attitudes may still be present among some, but the reality is that photography is just like baking — anyone can pick it up and try it; you just need the ingredients. Doesn't mean it'll stick and stay as something permanent in your life, but it fills a certain hole, a need, or a want of that exact moment.
Nowadays, the photographic process is not difficult, as it's primarily digital, nor is the person using the camera required to learn the intricacies of their equipment. It could be as simple as putting it on auto mode or simply using a basic point-and-shoot with limited setting options available. Whether we choose to associate ourselves as "photographers" who may not be as experienced or may not have professional-grade equipment (or what one may subjectively deem as "professional) is irrelevant, because photography as a community and as a medium of art is now open to all types of people.
I started thinking about this after a dear friend of mine sent me a link to a project collated and organized by Historic England, a public body that advocates people to preserve and enjoy England's historic environment. Their team collected images from the public that showcased how individuals have documented their experience of living through the lockdown, resulting in a collective visual experience, "Picturing Lockdown," that will eventually become a documentation of our social history. By including and displaying submissions from both the general public as well as from artists, similar to a recent project launched by Duchess of Cambridge, this is clearly signaling that photography does not need to be something only accessible to people with elite status, knowledge, experience, or equipment. It's a way for everyone to feel involved in writing the visual history of today.
Historic England reported how general public submissions showed an intimate insight into people's homes and explored themes of supporting healthcare and key workers, how people spent their time by baking, gardening, playing board games, and joining in Zoom quizzes with friends and family. Let's not also forget attempts at cutting hair, lockdown-related street art, going for daily allocated walks, working from home, and the ups and downs of having the whole family at home. Other themes included emptiness outdoors as well as emptiness inside — loneliness, isolation, social distancing.
All the themes above I have seen covered on a daily basis by professional photographers in a similar capacity. Some of us may have chosen a full frame DSLR, instead of the ever-popular smartphone used by the general public, but our images aren't any better than those by the general public. In fact, I have seen a lot of my fellow professionals swapping their professional equipment in favor of something that is quick and easily accessible, namely, their smartphone.
I just recently led a group of several female photographers who chose to ditch their camera for 28 days and focus on documenting their isolation on their phones through daily themes I provided. The feedback I received was that of feeling inspired instead of bogged down with technicalities, and all of us filled up our creative needs through five minutes of shooting each day. Just that brief moment of switching off and enjoying photography amid the daily worries and stresses brought us all closer and reminded us that we are photographers regardless of what tools we use. If you want to take a look at the full project, you can check out the presentation I prepared.
I strongly believe that projects like these, either led by photographers like myself or by larger organizations, are bridging the gap between all levels of photographers when it comes to non-professional work, even those who simply snap a smartphone picture from time to time without necessarily considering themselves photographers. You may think that this is likely to cause your work to be diluted among that of thousands of other people's work, but it does also mean that we are being exposed to more diverse world views. This allows us an entry into previously unexplored avenues, and it's telling the rest of the world that regardless of their experience or the equipment they use, their individual participation in contributing to our collective visual history is important.
There will always be amateur photographers trying their hand at professional photography and competing with more established professionals, but that is inevitable. Not everyone wants to or is capable of earning their livelihood from photography, so I wouldn't consider it a strong competition. However, when it comes to personal photography, I think it is important not to be stuck up about others joining in and sharing their work. It's exciting to explore visuals from all over the world, and we can learn a lot from it from both a photographic point of view as well as an anthropological one. Embrace others sharing what they see and what is important to them, because photography, just like baking or knitting, is open to every one of us.