Are you a Photographer? Or a Pixelographer?

What is a photograph? An actual photograph?

What are those compared to phone notes?  (For surely, images made on a phone for instant sharing, while quick, aren’t photographs.)

Sarah Meister, curator in the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art, made this distinction and I quite agree with her–a digital image is one that exists, but is different from a photograph, which is physical.  A photograph can be held in the hands and displayed in a gallery or museum.  She said she seeks photographs for MOMA, not images.

So, what is a photographer?  Simple: One who makes photographs.

Who does that anymore?  Where are all these photographs that people are making?  I suspect they don’t exist.

So, then, neither are these folks photographers.  The world of digital imaging made a new platform for showing photos: the internet.  It is certainly a viable way to see a picture, but it is not a photograph.

It would be like calling a PDF file a book.  Or an email a birthday card.  They’re just not.  They’re something completely different.

Related imageI was looking at a book of photographs of Norma Jeane Baker (before she was Marilyn Monroe) made by Hungarian photographer Andre de Dienes starting in 1945, and the photographs are spectacular.  It appears he was using both 6x6cm and 4×5 view cameras.  The images are technically and aesthetically amazing (and I don’t use that word very often to describe things, as I find most things less than amazing and the word overused.  These are not.)

His photographs have been exhibited in gallery shows.  What has been exhibited?  Photographs.  Printed photographs displayed in frames that you can see and touch and hold.

Image result for Andre de Dienes beach book

It’s what a photograph is.

Which got me thinking: What is a photographer nowadays?  In this high-tech, digital world.

For me, photography doesn’t stop at the making of the image on a recording medium–film or digital.  A negative that isn’t printed is not a photograph.  A slide is not a photograph–it’s a slide, of course.

And likewise, a phone image or even one made with a DSLR, isn’t a photograph unless it’s printed.

Which again, as far as my circle of friends and family, no one is doing.

EXCEPT…  Except the film photographers–because they know that they are working to make a negative in camera, and without a print, they don’t have a photograph.  They are expecting to take their negative to the next step, the positive print.

So, I would posit that only people using film to make photographs are photographers (assuming they print their work.)  And digital shooters could be photographers, if they print their images.

The rest?  Call them: 1) imagers, 2) digishooters, 3) capturers, 4) screeners, 5) phoners–I know, 6) pixelographers.

Just don’t call them photographers.  It’s the wrong word for what they do.

Why does this matter, what they’re called, or if it’s incorrect?  Why do we care if they’re mislabeled?  Because words matter.

It would be like interchanging the words chef and cook.  There’s a difference.

A person with a garden hose isn’t a firefighter.   So, a person with a camera isn’t a photographer.

I am a photographer.  Even when shooting digitally, I make photographs, including this gallery for a client, made up of images created at their events over the past 10 years.  It’s a physical gallery of nine framed photographs.


Likewise, I delivered photographs of a senior portrait session to a client today.  I include photographic prints with all my packages because it’s important that photographs made today are printed and kept for future generations.

And I gift photographs all the time.  Small framed photographs of the people I meet and photograph.

Because photographs matter.  They are our history.

And words matter.  They are precise for a reason.  I am a photographer.  Not everyone is.

My work more resembles Andre de Dienes’  than the latest photoshopped, Instagram-filtered sensation of the week.  Andre was a photographer.

The other name, whatever we decide, is not a bad word.  It’s just the accurate description of what is going on today in the image-taking world–pixels captured, and images shared on screens.

Wim Wenders, a renowned photographer and filmmaker (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club, Paris Texas) recently made a similar point.  “The trouble with iPhone pictures is nobody sees them,” he said in a recent BBC interview. “Even the people who take them don’t look at them anymore, and they certainly don’t make prints.”

Wenders says that though he uses a phone to make record shots and selfies, “I’m in search of a new word for this new activity that looks so much like photography but isn’t photography anymore,” he said.

I can cook dinner.  I am not a chef.

Lots of people are making images, in record numbers today.  Call them: 1) imagers, 2) digishooters, 3) capturers, 4) screeners, 5) phoners, 6) pixelographers.

Just don’t call them photographers.

23 thoughts on “Are you a Photographer? Or a Pixelographer?

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  1. There is valid point made here, but much of this article is about semantics,I think. Also, maybe just a matter of degree or experience or training. To use the analogy, both cooks and chefs prepare food and may make meals. Some better than others, but it’s all food. So, I’m suggesting, that in some sense, all these images are photographs, regardless of the medium. Semantics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What does it mean when someone says semantics?
      “Semantics” has to do with considering the meanings of words. When someone says “that’s just semantics,” it’s used idiomatically—a phrase repeated whole, parroted. It’s a put-down. It means “You’re about to talk about words, but words don’t matter.”

      I contend that words DO matter. But that’s maybe just semantics.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps Grainographer, but we photographers already have a name that works. Photography is the capturing of light on film to make a print, I believe that’s the distinction. Thanks Merlin.


    1. “the making of pictures by means of a camera that directs the image of an object onto a surface that is sensitive to light. From Merriam-Webster on photography.”

      Pictures are prints.


  2. Prints are pictures. It doesn’t have to be printed to be a photograph unless you define it that way. Or maybe that’s the point? Semantics.


    1. I contend that it does have to be printed to be a photograph. Just like a PDF or Word Doc has to be printed to be a book. That’s my thinking on it.


  3. We use words to describe or define certain ideas or things. It’s certainly a little arbitrary, a matter of definitions. Semantics.


    1. Why any effort to be less than specific if things change? We don’t still call cars carriages. We used to call them horseless carriages. Things change. Photography is about making images (negatives or digital or any alternative processes) and making a photographic print for display. Taking out the last part seems like not the same–it’s a screen medium. I think calling things what they are add specificity as things further evolve and isn’t a bad thing.


      1. It seems a little artificial to call it a photograph only if it’s printed. I prefer a broader more general definition of a photograph. Maybe any image made with light?


  4. I think photograph, I think object. Like vase or painting. If I paint a photo on my computer but never output it, is it a painting?


  5. I’d say a pixelographer works in the digital medium creating images for sharing on digital devices–ipads, computers, phones.

    Why when they changed from filmmaking to videomaking didn’t they just call it filmmaking? Why a new word?

    A photographer makes photographs that can be held and hung on a wall. (So, that doesn’t exclude an iphone shooter or a DSLR shooter–it’s the printing that makes one a photographer.)


  6. A photographer is one who captures an image with technology. A photograph is this image. A “hard copy” is a print, a “soft copy” is a digital file. Job descriptions often add more titles to the team that breakdowns that process into many steps depending on how the image will be utilized. The challenge is to put a mobile image with 72 dpi into print, which often demands 300 dpi. My recent and wonderful visits to MOMA was surrounded by a diverse expression of many types of art, some which some would debate if art at all. Non the less, the artist or painter, or photographer, etc. shared an experience in a medium that was able to express it in such a way to be shared and experienced by the observer, who could probably care less about the semantics.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, yes, but ultimately what we consider as reality or an accurate representation of reality corresponds to what we perceive with our “retina” or “visual system”, our nervous system. What appears on our retina or on the wall of the camera obscura or any analog projection screen, not to mention any digital screen, can always be manipulated or “distorted”. An easy example would seem to be the problem of color balancing or color matching in print for publication and analog photographic prints and digital media. It all seems a little arbitrary. The nature of reality can be relative and elusive and subjective.


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