ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Pear Bureau Northwest   Image © Michael Shay

[by Michael Shay]

There was a time when it was thought that ASMP should consist only of the best 50 photographers in the country.  The feeling was that by being an exclusive organization representing the best and most influential, the brand would have the greatest impact both in the marketplace and politically. While we could debate the feasibility of such an organization, the point was made.

This view, expressed in another way, sees the photographic marketplace as a competition for jobs and offers a simple win or lose proposition.  Photographers compete based on portfolio, price, and personal connections in a direct way that has been characterized as a “Zero Sum Game”.

In a rich, opportunistic environment, where all chances are equal, it is not such a bad strategy for survival. Enough would prosper that the group could grow in large enough numbers to ensure its continuation.

But what happens in more challenging environments?  Sure, the strong win often enough to survive… for a while. But if the environment is challenging enough, only a few survive well enough and the group becomes so small it lacks the diversity to continue in a healthy way.

In 2017, when millions of photographs are made daily, the sheer volume and ease of image making is diluting the “special” nature of our profession. At the same time, many pros are saying “if I show people how to light, how I get my clients, and how I run my shop, I am just giving away my secrets and training my competition.”  The fact is, in an internet-driven world, there are plenty of chances for our competition to learn in ways that may not be beneficial to the profession as a whole.

There is another way, a way our director, Tom Kennedy, describes as “…a rising tide carries us all”. In other words, a “Non-Zero Sum Game”. We have to cooperate with each other and include each other to make the best of what we face.  We have to share our knowledge unselfishly – knowledge about technical skills, knowledge about our business techniques, knowledge about how we get along with our clients and what makes us successful. We also have to find the ways our members and new emerging photographers need help and offer programs to fill their needs.  With that participation, we will find the heart of the new ASMP.

In addition, we have to help teach a kind of visual literacy where everyone can recognize what great imagery is. Part of this is exposing our audience to the best of the imagery available and showing the difference between mediocre images and great images. The other part is showing our audience the hard work that goes into making great images.  The solution is philosophically simple; the education part takes a lot of hard work.

Finally, we have to educate our members and other artists about the importance of the advocacy work ASMP is doing on a national level to ensure that all creators retain their inherent rights to own what they have made.

In the last member referendum 4 years ago, ASMP members voted to be an inclusive organization, opening up to all kinds of photographers from editorial to advertising to wedding. Now it is time to share our knowledge and experience and let a rising tide of openness and communication carry us all to a new level of success.

Michael was born in Germany, raised in the Midwest and spent most of his photographic career in San Francisco and Portland, where he now resides. Co-founder of Polara Studio, he has been specializing in food photography for almost 20 years, and is currently an ASMP National Board Director.

If this article was of interest to you, take a look at some of the other posts in the Board Members Give Back series.


Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • markgreen says:

    Could not agree more. So much has changed since I became a member in 1982. Even over the last 6 years as an ASMP national board member, I have seen the industry go through such dramatic upheavals, and the whole notion of our orginization’s viability (and the viability of touch of our profession as a whole) be challenged. I will continue to fight the good fight. Kudos o those carrying the torch. ~ Mark Green

  • pierrecook says:

    Michael’s article appears to be well thought out and embracing all of those elements necessary to grow and manage the changing times in the current world of photography. Yes, the strong survive in the old model being so criticized here and displayed as some sort of hindrance or handicap to those who can’t survive for one reason or the other. Or, perhaps a myriad of other reasons.

    Yes, as the market place becomes more challenging (AKA increasingly demanding of higher quality) the population Michael refers to dwindles because guess what . . . some of us are not as talented as others, cannot demand the fees other’s get and will in the end certainly operate in the sphere of their talent quotient and business acumen. And, demanding more fee for my work, selling from a superior portfolio of accomplished work and utilizing every contact I can doesn’t seem so bad. There is nothing wrong with that and in fact Michael’s argument is accurate in that the organization will in fact be smaller, albeit stronger and with enhanced credibility.

    Problem is “. . . a rising tide carries us all” as described in paragraph five dumbs-down the medium to the point that the work those 50 members produced for Vogue, Harper’s, Life, National Geographic, etc. and the many awards they earned from The New York Art Director’s Club and The Graphis Annual, will never be seen again in that context. Perhaps that’s the price ASMP has to pay to remain relevant in today’s world, but it’s a mistake for the medium we all respect and love. I think sharing and education is essential but it needs to be constructive so that the millions of images (not photographs anymore) produced every day won’t be used to establish an average quality level that is just plain mediocre. Art directors back in the day knew all about visual literacy because they practiced it all day every day, and their choices of a photographer were based on the quality they were pursuing.

    This is a conundrum for us old guys that did in fact operate in the old model and these comments should not be taken as unnecessary criticism. It’s just that digital medium has delivered an unchallenging, forgiving and easy option and at the same time one of the most incredible enhancements to photography since its inception, and I for one do not want to see that incredible leverage wasted on throwing all genre of photographers in a pot and renaming them inclusive. This is a creative medium not a tire factory.

    • Michael Shay says:

      Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to you post, Pierre. When I was arguing for a more inclusive ASMP, I wasn’t arguing for a larger organization necessarily. If ASMP needs to be smaller and more nimble to meet the needs of its members, so be it. It does, however, have to be more inclusive. It needs to reach out to emerging photographers, photographers working in smaller markets and photographers working in smaller specialties such as forensic scientific photography. We need to help these photographers learn to work within a framework of ethical and pricing standards that values the profession as a whole.
      As for those 50 members who produce the majority of work for Vogue, Harper’s, Life, National Geographic, etc. and earn most of the awards from The New York Art Director’s Club and The Graphis Annual, they are already being buried by the 1.3 trillion photographs that will taken this year alone. This is a generation that lives on a screen and doesn’t read Life, Harper’s or National Geographic. They are consumers who are looking for fast, casual, “Instagramish” and most of all “authentic” work that is closer in feel to the trillion than the 50.
      Though there are some universal standards or aesthetic principals one can apply to all good work (and presumably the work done by our members), the way these standards are applied is driven by changes in technology. In photography, technology has reduced the difference between good and “good enough” and on an iPhone screen only semi-relevant. So the visual literacy question, the question of how to produce and identify a really good photograph, is the essential one for the young photographers entering our profession and their clients who are doing the buying.
      Finally when the top 50 are arguing in Congress that we artists have the fundamental right to own what we produce, what kind of weight do you think that constituency will have? We need all of us photographers to stand together to be heard. It has been argued that APA, ASMP and PPA should all be one organization, speaking with one voice. No, our creative medium is not a tire factory, but if the “magic” of our medium is to survive it will be most certainly by sharing not by hiding.

  • 16969 says:

    IMHO….. Your point is well taken but until we start talking about pricing or suggesting price ranges and why, we will never attract nor influence the mass of photographers today. That is where we should head in education.

    • Luke Copping says:

      Traditionally, our hands have been legally tied in this regard. Due to numerous federal antitrust laws and state level restraint of trade laws, trade organizations like ASMP must walk fine line to avoid accusations of price fixing. While we are able to talk about historical pricing (for example the ASMP paperwork share, or the “real world estimate” series from Wonderful Machine that we regularly share in our weekly link roundups in which photographers show examples of what they have charged in the past for specific work) we cannot suggest pricing or compel members to adhere to any sort of pricing agreement or suggested pricing structure. Nor can ASMP act in the manner of a union or guild, to collectively bargain or mandate standardized rates and payments.

    • Michael Shay says:

      As Luke suggested ASMP per se can NOT per se suggest pricing, but we can and do share estimates and “historical” pricing, meaning pricing on past jobs. Also there is nothing wrong with speaking among ourselves what rates certain photographers in different markets might be..But you are dead right if we don’t share, our ignorance will only be used against us.

  • says:

    I definitely understand the conundrum and the perspective. I fully agree that education is the key. We need to combat the “good enough” requirements of many photo buyers, and we need to ensure that those photo buyers understand the value of those images. Just as the photographers need to understand the value of those images so that they can operate in a profitable/survivable manner. Many younger photographers have the passion, but are unable to learn what is and isn’t “fair” in the business. Teaching someone to have an artistic eye is much more difficult than teaching them business rules and finance (pricing), but we owe it to ourselves to prepare younger photographers to operate professionally in our industry.

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