In a town where everyone is either: a) a former Olympian/World Champion, b) a really important big deal someplace else before they moved here, and c) wealthy beyond your wildest dreams, add professional photographer to the list. If my calculations are correct, there are more professional photographers in Bend than there are medical professionals.
The problem is these professional photographers aren't professionals. They're dabblers. People who work regular jobs, with benefits, and moonlight as photographers hoping to make it in the glamorous (see the film Blowup) and sexy (see the film The Bridges of Madison County) world of photography.
Real professional photographers earn the majority of their income making photographs. They're not pulling down $200k a year as a doctor, more than that as a stock trader, not nearly that much, but still a lot, working in a legal office, etc. No, they are professionals in their trade and that's how they make their money.
Which leads me to the conversation of getting paid a fair wage for work performed. Bend is notorious as a horrible marketplace for professional photographers. Simply stated, local advertisers and publications simply will not pay what's considered the going rate for photography. Hey, they can get photos for free or for nothing because there are so many pseudo pros out there who are willing to give their work away or just happy to see their byline under a photo.
Seeing their byline, the pseudo pros lay instant claim to being a professional. And in giving away or selling their work on the cheap, they undermine every true working pro. Those who rely on getting a fair price for his or her work in order to continue in the profession.
To be honest, Bend wasn't always such a terrible market for photographers. That was back in the film days when those who used photography for illustration had to rely on people who could make good in-camera images.
Then along came digital and everyone who yearned to be the next Richard Avedon or Robert Frank, found out they could produce crappy images and turn them into wondrous ones via Photoshop.
Voila, the era of making images became one of enhancing images. "Hey, can you get me one of the Three Sisters in the background with Elizabeth Taylor and Mohammed Ali in the foreground standing in front of the Sunriver Lodge? No problem.
Meanwhile, the real pro tells the person requesting said trumped-up image to get lost. And, as the Kurt Vonnegut's character Kilgore Trout often said: "so it goes." Life marches on and many true local professional photographers are re-thinking their careers while those in the pseudo professional photographer class continue to undercut them in price and quality.
It's a sad state of affairs to be sure and one that will never change since the precident for cheap, overly manipulated work has been established.
So, you might ask, who are Bend's true professional photographers? We can start with Andy, Pete, Rob, etal at The Bulletin. They are true professionals. That's their line of work.
Apart from them there's a short list of locals who have devoted their lives to the study and practice of photography. These gifted photographers now mainly work with out-of-town art markets, publications and advertisers because they know how bad the local market is and will remain.
Last year, a local frame shop advertised a display of work by "Bend's Best Photographers". I have no idea what criteria the shop owners used in the selecting the "best" because only two on the list were true professionals. The rest were dabblers.
But more power to the dabblers. Please continue to enjoy your avocation but don’t go around calling yourself a professional until your tax statement is such that most, if not all, of your income comes from making images.