[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.