There’s a distinct difference between being a photographer and producing fine photographs to decorate walls with. The differentiation is not just a question of semantics. You might someone working with a camera and making a living from photography is a photographer. Not necessarily, says Gavin Seim who once earned a pretty good living thanks to photography — and today proclaims: I Am No Longer a Photographer. Gavin didn’t sell his gear. He just changed his mindset and attitude. He’s determined to make money again.
“I know few anymore who are making a good living from photography,” says Gavin. But he’s not about to give up. This is about a photographer moving forward. Recently he saw a veteran photographer who has likely done more jobs and taught more professionals than any of us will ever see. He gave notice that he was walking out — ”So glad to be exiting what used to be a profession,” he said.
Today Gavin walks away as well, in a different way. He’s not going to stop making images. He’s not going to stop being a photographer. He’s going to build a business not of selling photographs, but of custom furniture. Not a new idea by all means, but he’s taking it further.
What happened? With the ascent of digital photography, consumers no longer need photographers.
By definition a photographer is still a photographer. But the practical use of the word has changed. Gavin:
Perhaps the industry caved? Professionals and organizations did not demand high enough standards or properly educate customers. Camera makers went for the numbers and big sales, telling everyone they could be a pro and make money money money. It was a business after all and perhaps we can’t blame anyone. We all had mouths to feed and what had stemmed from 150 years of rich photographic history changed in a blink. We barley had time to realize what was happening. New photographers were also part of it. At some point they lusted so much for respect that they demanded to be called photographers right now, even though they had no training or real experience.
They got their wish. Everyone finally started calling everyone else a photographer because they had a camera in hand. The problem was that while that sounded nice, it applied to everyone else with camera too. Everyone became a photographer overnight, but almost no one actually studied the light, presentation or art that had been the staple for hundreds of years. They simply demanded in a rather socialist narrative that they be part of the group. When everyone was an artist, no one was. The respect was gone.
Consumers no longer needed us. Today most people no longer know what a quality photograph is. They now pay people to make photos in which dad looks abusive, mom looks fat, the kids like Oompa Loompas and the dog looks mangy. People are literally selling photos that are worse than snapshots and consumers don’t know the difference. But they are realizing that they don’t need to pay for them because anyone can do it.
Today Gavin doesn’t consider himself to be a photographer anymore — by modern definition. It’s not that he no longer uses photography. A chef still cooks and a sculptor still chisels. He will continue to learn and teach photographics, but that does not define his trade:
This is business. I must grow and raise the bar. A smart businessman does not describe his trade with a word that has no value to his customers. The word “photographer” once had meaning, but it has been twisted beyond recognition (…)
I make fine wall decor. Custom furnishings. Do I use photographics to achieve this? Yes, but that’s only a part of what’s involved. In fact far less of my time is spent “taking photos” than on the other elements involved in my process of planning and execution.
Gavin Seim has a plan. He keeps refining his presentation, his brand and his approach. He’s fundamentally changing his own perception and the product of photography:
If your mindset does not change, neither has your business. It’s taken me years to fully accept and apply this fundamental change in my work. But I’ve finally let photography go. I have not only left the word behind. I have truly changed what I produce. I make fine furniture for walls