Everyone, obviously, has a camera these days; and yet, the venerable art of photography is, by most accounts, comatose if not on its death bed. How is this possible? The truth is that while the ever increasing availability of cheap electronics, including cameras, has, in many ways, been a boon to our society; this consumer tsunami has also left many vicitims in its wake. Some casualties are less obvious than others. By way of example, ask any serious photographer and they’ll tell you- sometimes passionately, and often in great detail- about the implosion of professional photography. The impossibility of making a living via this craft is always, understandably, at the forefront of their concerns; as are the collective frustrations born of dealing with an ever demanding public which, with each passing year, demonstrates less and less respect for the profession while concurrently demanding that photographers ply their trade for free, or at best, for token wages. One photographer recently told me that a friend paid her for a portriait session with a token gift card from Target. Thus, because any drunken monkey, or stoned frat boy with a cell phone, now possess the capacity to point a camera, or I phone, and record an image which can be downloaded to the local news editor, there is no further need to employ any full time professional photographers. And because many believe that their cousin armed with a new Rebel and a kit lens is a suitable replacement for a professional photographer, pros shoot fewer and fewer weddings. Similarly, mothers shoot their own Christmas cards thus avoiding the need to travel to the local small town studio for a portrait session. The ultimate result being that serious photographers seem to be going the way of daily home milk delivery and the public payphone. Two recent examples, from my own experience, illustrate the demise of the professional photographer. I recently received a Groupon wherein a local photographer was offering a half day introductory course for thirty-five dollars. Given that Groupon receives one half any coupon sold, this means that the photographer in question was offering that half day course for seventeen dollars before expenses and taxes. I've also received many other similar offers in the last year. My second example involves a large international association who came to town. By their own reckoning, this international group staged an event and brought into town, over ten days, a total of 362 participating groups from 64 countries, with 15,000 participants taking part in the event, making it the largest international arts and cultural event held in the history of Cincinnati. The event’s web site claims that it was the first time this prestigious international event was held in the United States; that it was attended by over 208,000 visitors, and that, Media coverage totaled more than a billion impressions around the globe with publicity value of more than $32 million. It’s also important to consider the movement of the subject and/or the need to capture and/or arrest that movement. This may be accomplished by adjusting the speed of the shutter. A rapid closing of the shutter can still a humming bird, the use of slow shutter speed, combined with a rapidly moving subject can produced a pleasing blurred effect which could is helpful if one is shooting, say, a bicycle race. All of these prior considerations, of course, turn upon an assessment of the lightning present and or available at the time of shooting. One must assess the source, or source(s), of light; the nature of that light (various types artificial- bright sun, filtered light?) as well as the need to compensate for an any unwanted, or overly aggressive source or types of light- such as bright glaring sunlight in mid-afternoon. Some of the less objective concerns which might face a photographer- when capturing an image- depends upon the nature of the event and/or subject being shot at any given moment: the photo journalist or street photographer must assess her subject and gauge the subjects potential reaction to be photographed- i.e. - is the person aware that she or he is being photographed, and/or is the subject likely to be unhappy or even enraged or threatened by being photographed? A subject glaring directly into the camera rarely constitutes a worthwhile image. Accordingly a journalist or street photographer must often work in anonymity. A fact which in and of itself demands the cultivation of a distinct skill set. Most often, however, in more overt instances, the subject is aware of the photographer’s intentions and trust must be cultivated in order to assure that the resulting portrait doesn't reflect an unhappy, uneasy or nervous subject. Such trust may be cultivated sometimes over hours or even days in a studio; other times a rapport must be established in seconds on the street. The type of interpersonal communication required to build such trust is a subtle skill shared by few. Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote in his seminal work: "The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers by Henri Cartier-Bresson, “ To photograph is to hold one's breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It's at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy. “ The point is not that amateurs cannot create photography- especially using today’s gear. For even the greenest photographer can snag the (occasional) worthwhile shot with a point and shoot camera and/or cell phone. The point is that great photography does not happen by accident or on its own. I’m also not saying that those who seriously shoot are only all about the cash. For the opportunity to capture fleeting reality, to finally possess that great physical and intellectual joy, is ultimately why most photographers shoot and will continue to work their craft, conjure their magic, whether or not they’re being paid. In fact, those who disdain and/or knowingly abuse the art of photography, and those who practice the art, ultimately have the upper hand because there are many of us who cannot help ourselves but to shoot, We have no choice because- as with most artists- shooting is part and parcel of our lives and working at the craft of photography is what makes our lives rich and varied and rewarding. As Bresson once wrote of his own love affair with the lens: I went to Marseille. A small allowance enabled me to get along, and I worked with enjoyment. I had just discovered the Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life – to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. In the end, beautiful images are created by those who crave to seize the whole essence of any given subject, scene or setting. A photographer longing for beauty, Jonesing to capture the essence of any given scene, does not invoice before shooting. And yet, how many great portraits, landscapes, works of art haven’t been produced, in the last two, three, five, fifteen years, because such photographers have lacked the means to travel and shoot such landscapes? How many great portraits have not been shot because photographers have been forced to work overly long hours away from their studios; are now forced to drive UPS trucks all day and shoot when they can? How many grooms go through life not knowing the beauty of their bride on their wedding day because they chose to rely on Cousin Kevin? How many people have stopped shooting because earning a living with a camera entails too little money and so much, to put it simply, bullshit? In the last month I’ve spoken with no less than three photographers who told me that they quite shooting for long periods of time because they had, “lost their passion.” Each used this phrase, what does it mean? I don’t know. I suspect that it means that they’re simply sick of the ever increasing costs of practicing their art. I do know that most of us continue as best we can. I also suspect, however, that there is important, and beautiful work, not being shot and the world suffers for it. Me? I’ll continue to put in my time, to hone my craft as best I can. I’ll stand on a street corner, in a city neighborhood, freighted with a hundred kinds of light and a thousand unique faces, shooting without a gig, for free, on a late fall Tuesday night. Because that’s what it takes, that’s the price to pay to make art. I call it batting practice- going though the motions to maintain the muscle memory so that when the chance for that great shot comes, I'll be ready. In going through the motions, I rarely produce anything memorable, let alone stunning, but I always learn something. I'm always moving towards that goal of getting those shots. And all the while I won’t feel cheated that I don’t have a paying gig, because I know, as do my brothers and sisters of the lens, that if I keep the faith, and do the work, that at some point, the Gods of light and space will smile upon me and grant me a vision of the universe that few will ever know. And that will be enough. I’ll live simply to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. The rest of the world will have to be content with bean burritos and cinder-block office buildings.