Recently, I read a review that referred to me as an "amateur".
Far from taking offence to the review, it made me revisit the question of "what makes someone an amateur vs what makes someone a professional?" Is it the quality of their work? Is it the percentage of their total income earned? Is it they way they conduct themselves? Is it the years of experience they have behind them?
I've been a photographer for more than 10 years, and I thought about this stifling label of 'amateur' alot early on. I even personally devalued the quality of my work and my time because I had labelled myself as an 'amateur'. But then I stopped caring about 'titles' and decided to concentrate on perfecting my craft and exploring the depth photography has to offer.
I am in an unusual and fortunate position in that, although I do not make more than 50% of my living from photography, nor do I belong to any overriding photographic institution, I do keep a close eye and ear on what is happening in photography locally and worldwide both the art element and the business aspect.
I have trouble spelling amateur, never mind defining it, so I turned to good old Wikipedia for help;
The Wikipedia definition eludes to an amateur being a person who is in love with their pursuit, is self taught and does unpaid work.
'Being in love with your pursuit' - does that mean to be a 'professional' person you have to have an element of distaste to what you are doing? Surely the ultimate goal is to do something professionally that you love doing?
'Self teaching' - when it comes to photography, most 'professional' photographers admit to being self taught. Even those formally trained at art school or photography college, subsequently go on to self teach - it is part of life and learning, regardless of job or profession.
'Doing unpaid work' - this one is probably a bit more indicative of the difference between a professional and an amateur, in that those who make 50% or more of their total income are likely to regard that activity as their profession. However, if by simply doing unpaid work, makes you an amateur, then there are a whole lot of amateurs out there masquerading as professionals.
The two other elements that Wikipedia does not touch on are, 'time of service to the pursuit' and 'how a person conducts themselves'. We are familiar with the person who is referred to as "an old Pro" (but I've never heard anyone referred to as an "old amateur") and we are also familiar with the positive connotations of a person referred "they were really professional in their approach" and the negative connotations associated with "they were very amateur in their approach"
Photography is an interesting place to debate the amateur vs professional titles and I know it is something that many photographers have strong opinions on. Unlike the days of film and darkroom photography, image making is accessible to anyone and everyone with a phone and an Instagram account.
Other vocations are also a place to debate the terms, in contrast, some other 'jobs' don't lend themselves to such a muddy definition. It is often 'the Arts' where the terminology can be muddied, for example, a person may buy a piece of art they love from an amateur painter or sculptor, however, they would be reluctant to accept treatment from an amateur doctor or advice from an amateur lawyer.
Would you answer an ad in the paper that read like this "Room for rent; looking for an amateur person, non-smoker, no pets. Must be good with kids"
Back to photography; I really don't know (or care) when people stop calling themselves an amateur and start calling themselves a professional photographer (some people would say it is when they create a Facebook page, it becomes official. Some people would say it relates to the number of letters after their name or awards granted). Making the definition between a professional and an amateur is actually counterproductive to those who regard themselves as 'professionals' as inevitably, those with amateur painted on their foreheads will devalue their work and either work for free or at a much lower cost, therefore undercutting the 'professionals'. The rhetoric of "value your work!!" and "stop undercharging/working for free!!" from the professional photographers is often one born of frustration and concern of losing business to the often highly talented amateur.
What is important to me is that whether a young amateur or old pro, you have a passion for your craft (amator), you are willing to evolve (didactically or autodidactically) and are able to strike a respectful working relationship with your colleagues and clients.
After all, based on the Wikipedia definition, we are all amateurs ..... (and Wikipedia is never wrong!).
Feel free to leave comments, start a discussion in the comments section below, or on my (professional) Facebook page.