Do I have a problem?

On the ‘United Nations of Photography‘ site you can read a contribution by an anonymous ex-photographer, who took his last picture as a professional in 2006, I’m a Photographer and I Have a Problem…, and it got me thinking a little about my own and other photographer’s motives, particularly in the main area of photography which I’m now involved with.

The writer is not the only photographer I’ve known who has had similar thoughts and a change of career – in his case to becoming “a Support Worker (£7.20 per hour) at a Residential Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre.” The current weekly hourly minimum in the UK, it’s actually better money than many photographers now earn, though I’m sure that was not the reason for the change.

Yesterday as I waited outside Harrods for a protest there to begin, I was talking to one photographer about the poor wages earned by some workers in the world’s richest store owned by the richest family in the world – the Qatari royal family. Many of the waiters there get either that same legal minimum hourly rate, or just a few pence more, while that “needy” family get the lion’s sahre of the tips and service charge the public think are for them. We reflected that many if not most of the photographers present put in long hours for a pretty low return, in many cases amounting to an even lower hourly rate than that minimum.

I thought too of a series of exchanges with Chauncey Hare after I’d written about his work. I’d first seen his work when Lewis Baltz showed some of it at a workshop I attended, and went out and bought his 1978 book ‘Interior America’. In the 80s he gave up on photography and became a therapist who concentrated on work related abuse. The piece I wrote about him is no longer on the internet, but you can read a review on ‘5B4’ of the eventual republication of his work as ‘Protest Photographs‘, an extended version of that 1978 Aperture publication.

While informative, Mr. Whiskets’s review is I think in one aspect misleading. The light printing of the book was not “so typical of books from the late 70s” but was the result of a deliberate aesthetic choice by Hare – as was the harsh flash lighting; I think he did not want his work and the book to be seen as “art” but as a manifesto. But I was pleased when in 2009, a few years after our on-line conversation, someone managed to persuade him, as I had failed, to have his work re-published.

The anonymous photographer’s article is illustrated with an image of smashed cameras and equipment; Hare threatened to destroy all of his work – 50,000 negatives, 3500 prints and 30,000 35mm slides and many taped interviews – unless the University of California’s Bancroft Library would accept it as a donation. Fortunately they did, and now the library holds all rights and permission to reproduce pictures from his work in social situations requires the following sentence to be used with them: “These photographs were (or ‘this photograph was’) made by Chauncey Hare to protest and warn against the growing domination of working people by multi-national corporations and their elite owners and managers.” There are no items on-line.

Later yesterday, another photographer said to me that he didn’t mind about the protest we were photographing, all he wanted was “some action“. I didn’t reply but thought to myself that I was only there because I did mind, did care about the issues and the people, and that although I’d do my best to take pictures of anything dramatic that occurred, it wasn’t what motivated me.

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