Mighty cultures never — are almost never conquered. They crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats because everything isn’t working out perfectly every time. —Frank Miller
“Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner Are All Photographers Now.”
I saw the headline yesterday and immediately seethed with anger. I didn’t need to read any further or see the pictures (though I did after I calmed down). There was no question as to the content or thesis of the W Magazine article. Put a camera in the hands of a spoiled brat, let her take some shots, publish them in a major fashion magazine and call it an editorial. Boom, three new photographers.
Horseshit. We’ve talked about this before. I started to link to the archived articles, but there were too many. This isn’t a new topic and not repeating myself is going to be difficult. The field of photography has become to crowded and too muddied, though, to let an insult like this pass without comment. Yes, I know I’m preaching to the choir—you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t supportive of what we do—but the fact that the topic keeps coming up again and again is evidence of how little respect we get from editors, and major publishing houses like Condé Nast, which owns W Magazine, Vanity Fair, and the Vogue franchise. If they think we can be replaced by know-nothing brats with no experience, they truly have no regard for the experience and professionalism of photography at all.
Why Use Spoiled Brats
I understand why the editors wanted to use the particular spoiled brats that they did. The three girls, combined, represent over 100 million potential readers. Thanks to social media, reality television, and a massive PR effort fueled by parents’ money, each of the girls are marketing juggernauts. Any place they go, anything they do is immediately in the spotlight with millions of people—mostly teenage girls with wide-eyed dreams— watching and taking notes. What these girls wear become instant sell-outs. When brands and fashion labels hire them, it’s not because the girls are particularly talented but because of the massive social media following they bring with them. That’s it.
That traditional print magazines are struggling is no secret. Even the massive Condé Nast, which has done better than most in converting its holdings to an online market, just had another C-level shakeup this week, which likely means more cuts coming to the rank-and-file. Money is tight. We get it. Anything they can do to increase the number of eyes coming across their pages they’re willing to try. This is why we see no-talent pseudo-celebrities on the cover of Vogue and Marie Claire.
We have no control over the foibles of celebrity fanaticism. To me, it has never made sense. I don’t go nuts over someone simply because they’ve been on television. I have been on television and let me tell you, it wasn’t all that difficult! Anyone who is breathing can pretty much do the television thing without any additional training or instruction beyond knowing how to talk. Yet, when someone becomes immensely popular, slapping them on a magazine is an easy way to increase sales; it’s easy, brainless content.
Snapshots Don’t Make Photographers
There’s actually a video of Bella Hadid’s “photoshoot.” The video focuses on Bella holding a camera and pushing the shutter button. She doesn’t worry about lighting, someone handles that for her. She isn’t seen processing the photos, someone handles that for her. She doesn’t even make any adjustments to the camera, such as focal length or shutter speed. Someone set those important elements before handing her the camera and told her to not touch them.
There’s no question the spoiled brats in question are good at taking snapshots. The Instagram queens have proven quite well adapted at making sure their face gets in the frame. That doesn’t make any of them photographers, though. Their understanding of cameras comes largely in relation to an app on their top-of-the-line cell phones. Do they understand why one might want to use different size lenses? No. Do they understand how digital cameras actually work? Of course not. Neither do they have any real concept of the delicacy of lighting, white balance, depth of field, focal length, or any of the dozens of other issues that real photographers have to consider before they ever snap the shutter.
Our industry has always been plagued by those who get lucky with a few good snapshots and suddenly think they should be photographers. Typically, however, they are put off by the high cost of entry or discouraged by the steep learning curve. None of those barriers exist, though, when one is rich and has plenty of people more than willing to compensate for their lack of knowledge or experience. So, spoiled brats get called photographers. Stand by, a lot of teenage girls are now interested in photography. Be glad cameras cost thousands of dollars.
The Problem Isn’t Going Away
All the complaining in the world isn’t going to make the problem of spoiled brats trying to be photographers go away. This is the new reality. Magazine editors are much less concerned about the quality of photography and immensely interested in how many eyeballs one’s name might bring to the publication. If you don’t have an Instagram following in the hundreds of thousands, you don’t stand a chance of any editor paying any attention, no matter how wonderful your work might be. We now live in a society where there is a tremendous disconnect between the artistry and talent of being a photographer and the value our perceived to possess. If a photographer is going to succeed, they not only have to take incredible pictures, they have to be champions of social media marketing, something very few of us even begin to understand.
The Hadid and Jenner generation will eventually fade, but they will be replaced by some other group of spoiled brats attempting to claim titles they’ve not earned. It is up to photographers, the real ones, to set a bar high enough that vanity cannot so easily claim a place on the platform. The challenge is ours. We must find an appropriate response.