Are you a photographer?” the woman seated next to me on the airplane asked. She had spied my camera bag with two bodies and three extra lenses.
The truth is that I would not claim to be a photographer. I would say I’m a guy who takes photos. I am reluctant to exaggerate, in part for fear of inadvertently insulting professionals who would scoff at the pretense of those who have acquired gear and believe they possess the skill. Nowadays everyone fancies himself a photographer, meaning perhaps none of us is — at least very few of us should be bestowing the title upon ourselves.
Assessed by high standards, I am an amateur, a hobbyist, a dilettante. I could hardly be offended by that status because photography has been an important avocation since the Kodak Brownie made the art accessible to ordinary consumers. It has been integral to family life. The “Kodak moment” is one of those advertising slogans that became a cultural touchstone.
Yet I do carry two cameras (three counting my smartphone). That is a sign of earnest obsession more than it is of any expertise I suppose in a sense I am a photographer though. I qualify by the measure of sustained interest despite intermittent breaks. We take for granted an ease to photography and an ability to disseminate even a simple snapshot that could not have been imagined when I developed, enlarged, and printed the original frame of film.
Maybe we cannot be so sure about defining ourselves. A person also can be deemed a “photographer” without great exertion. A single viral selfie seems enough to turn a person into a celebrity, even an icon. Andy Warhol is remembered for declaring that each of us would have our fifteen minutes of fame He is not recalled for his subsequent quip that all of us would be famous in fifteen minutes. Warhol was always in on the joke. He would be amused by our narcissism.
There is a difference between what we do and who we are. If we do it enough, however, it becomes who we are. For me, it is enough to try my hand at an art and science that continues to fascinate me. Although I have enough jobs and honors, I am aware of how much more I need to learn to be worthy of “photographer.