Letter to a Photo Amateur

Dear comrade! I got your pictures and your letter, and did not respond on purpose. But if you insist, I decided to tell you my opinion quite frankly; it’s worse if my frankness will touch you, your confidence that you are a brilliant master of photographic art.

Why do you send me doubly bad pictures – both compositionally and technically – and why do you accompany them with the amiable note which says “it’s just an amateur photos” and you made them only for your entertainment?

Sure, everyone can have only a vague idea about photography, but there are a lot of books which can be helpful in obtaining of minimum required knowledge without difficulty and, furthermore, magazines devoted to the photography, which will give you all the clarifications that you ask for.

Since you have not hesitated to purchase a good camera, once you have a great lens, why do not you sacrifice a little money to buy a good guide? Instead of listening to all the «advices» of friends, such as inexperienced as you are, and consistently try all possible reagents and all the plates praised by someone, why did not you choose a some sort of reagent and only one brand of plates?

Of course, the experimental method has its advantages, but it should be used logically and not to be guided by a instantaneous inspiration. But more than that I’m ready to reproach you for your scorn for photography, simplifying latter to some «fun», and for your attitude to the word «amateur».

«Amateurs» like you humiliated this word and gave him his current bad sense, which refers to an idle man with the camera under his arm, shooting pictures without a plan and thought, everything he sees, who treats friends with examples of poor performance.

The real amateur is, in fact, the one who loves photography for itself, despite any cash payments, rather than a muddle that clicks on the right and on the left, bathes the plates in any mixture and (the devil knows how) prints the results of these exercises on any kind of paper.

The «amateur photography» term should denote the excellent technically filled compositions, true works of art, as the amateur driven by love for the cause, rather than need, jobs or professional necessity, can not excuse himself for a bad or mediocre work by any apologies of a professional photographer.

If a professional photographer which must live from his lens, tries to save money where possible to extend his reagents, if he buys a cheaper plates and tries to develop his bromide prints automatically — this is not a problem. He has to fight the competition, he has big expenses, and whatever may be said, an increasing number of «amateurs» with all modern models of photo cameras in hand steal a lot of customers from him: many would come to him to shoot, if they would not be satisfied by pictures taken by some friend, a passionate photographer.

With respect to such a professional photographer, I would whole-heartedly found the forgiveness for him, if he will brought me the pictures like yours, and say: «This is just a professional photos», since he could refer to a thousand different things as an excuses for him, which would be only the aggravations of guilt for you.

A professional could tell me that he was forced to work in any lighting condition, he is obliged to have good luck every time, that he did not take pictures for his own pleasure, he has to work more, economically and quickly if possible, and that he had no time to change his manner or try new ways that possibly could alienate his clients.

Therefore, in case of creation of great art we must not rely on this professional, and the destiny of an amateur is to remove the photography from the area of banality and conventionality, in which it risks of getting bogged down. But this still requires from the amateur to agree to acquire sufficient skills in optics and chemistry, in order not to be paralyzed at the first steps, he needs to have some knowledge of the aesthetics, he must not consider all of his pictures of being perfect, should not listen to criticism of jealous or ignorant people and must not think that it would be possible to excuse the concept of «amateurism» by all kind of ignorance and laziness.

Dear comrade, you are not an «amateur» if you are having fun making pictures. But that day, when you will send me a skillfully made and well printed picture based on an interesting topic, perfectly revealing the plot, with good color and harmonic composition, in a word, a significant and exceptional creation, this day — I promise to you — I will answer immediately, and my first words would be: «I finally got your amateur photo.»

O. B-n

Soviet Photo Magazine, #5 (1926).

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