In praise of amateurship

Blue mountain ridges in Switzerland by an amateur photographer

This post is an example for how one thing leads to another. It all started with me watching the movie "Hoselupf" about the swiss national sport Schwingen. The presenter, Beat Schlatter, expresses his surprise about the friendliness and respectfuleness even among the fiercest opponents and concludes that the amateurship of the sportsmen (and women) is the reason for the cordial terms among them (all Schwingers are obliged to go after a regular profession, even though some pursue their sport like competitive athletes and earn a substantial income). This made me think about amateurship (if you can, you should really read the german amateur entry in Wikipedia, it is much more elaborate and detailed).

It turns out that amateur is an old french word that originated from latin and means a lover of something. Interestingly, even in dictionaries this original meaning has been translated into "one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science" or "a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity". A person who loved the thing she was doing has been degraded to an inexperienced or even unskilled person. Clearly, amateur has become a synonym for incompetence, ignorance and low quality and standards. Amateur is completely passé and the adjective of the day is PROFESSIONAL. Everybody and everything has to be professional nowadays. For example, you can brush your teeth with professional toothpaste (when I looked it was sold out though) or read about professional beauty, but best of all, nowadays even the amateurs are professional; so called Pro-Ams (the term has been coined by Charles Leadbeater, whose TED talk on innovation mentions pro-ams at 8:20).

The designation amateur seems to be so frowned upon that people start to invent all sorts of new terms for disguise (including pro-am). I find this funny, interesting, sad and just ridiculous all at the same time. In photography, enthusiast or hobbyist are popular titles, although amateurs seem to exist as well - usually in a lower category. An interesting group are the prosumers, which are almost professional photographers; at least with respect to their equipment. However, prosumers are more interested in equipment than actual photography and therefore particularly prone to develop compulsive camera buying syndrom (CCBS). In my humble opinion, the title amateur fits most photographers well. Even many self-acclaimed professional photographers are amateurs as well - not because I do not appreciate their photography, but rather because they may be professional workshop organizers, sales representatives or public relation managers. As long as they photograph for themselves, neither for a client nor an employer, they earn and deserves the title amateur photographer.

This text was intended as a molehill but became a mountain. I learned about amateurs, professionals and pro-ams but still do not care for titles very much. All I wanted to say is that being a lover of the things you do is one of the greatest things that can happen to you. I would like to end my essay with five statements that I think are important. In my opinion, an amateur photographer...
  • ... photographs just because she wants to and loves to.
  • ... is neither employed nor commissioned to photograph.
  • ... can have any level of experience or skill.
  • ... may or may not have received a formal education in photography.
  • ... may or may not earn money with her photographs.
Have a great day!

2012/02/19 by Florian Freimoser
Categories: , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply