Why I hate being a photographer / by Morgana Wingard


My friends frequently catch me lying to strangers. Observing a camera larger than my head clasped in my hand, new comers ask the obvious. "Are you a photographer?" 

"Mmmm....uhh...sort of...." I mumble awkwardly and attempt, usually unsuccessfully, to change the subject. When my friends are around, they usually laugh and then jump in to answer for me as I try to dodge the subject and creep away. I hate to admit I'm a photographer. I almost succeeded in denying it the other day in a familiar scenario. The inquisitor, a cameraman himself, quickly started adding up the dollars, "Are you just really rich and buy expensive toys?"  If only that were true. As a friend reminded me tonight, we invest in what we love. I love photography. It's my paintbrush. It's my tool to communicate what I see.   

But everyone's a photographer these days. It either comes with weighty National Geographic quality bricks of expectation or skepticism that a "professional" photographer is really any different than the next person on the street with an iPhone. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I just don't like titles. But that's not why I hate being a photographer. 

As with most talents, photography is a blessing and a curse. Photography has opened the door to experience things, places, people, and stories I would never have had the opportunity to see. Photography is my ticket to the school of life and for some reason they let me record it. It feeds my insatiable curiosity. It never gets old because it's always bringing me to new places and new people and new stories. To the rest of the world, that's all I am -- a photographer. 

As the photographer, my job is to be like the fly in the room. Everyone can hear it, but no one sees it. And if they do, they want to swap it. The photographer is supposed to be invisible. We wear black and blend into the scenery. If I talk to guests, then I'm not doing my job. I can't engage. My job is to be on the periphery. To observe, watch, and be ready for the moment. I'm put in a box as if that's all I can do -- take a decent photograph. There's the esteemed famous photographers who are drizzled with admiration and then there's the rest of us who serve our clients like drivers. Go here. Go there. Take that picture. Now that one. Stop. We go where the client wants us to go as if we have no brain to know where to drive ourselves. And no one asks the photographer what they think of what's going on. They ask the politician and the model and the musician. The photographer is just there to capture the story for them as if they don't have the intelligence to know anything about the story they are capturing.

Recently, I did a favor for a friend and photographed a Forbes philanthropy event. The summit touched on one of my passions -- social business. Their words truely inspired me -- especially one speaker. Normally embarrassingly shy, I decided to go tell her I really liked what she had to say. She barely acknowledged my existence. Her eyes seemed to see through me and then she turned to the man standing next to me confirming all my insecurities. Obviously I wasn't important enough for her to talk to. I wasn't worth her time. It's funny how the second I take the "photographer" hat off and put on another one, people want to talk to me and the second I swap them again they don't. That's why I hate being a photographer. The photographer hat puts me in a box. I am not just a photographer. Don't put me in a box.