Why don’t photographers have unions?
I get it: photographers are not thought to be as “important” as electricians or bricklayers, nor are they generally thought to be as valuable as teachers or meat cutters, but has anyone ever attempted to organize photographers into anything more than an elitist collective like Magnum?
My thoughts on this are as follows: most photographers are petty and despise the work and success of their contemporaries. It’s pretty hard to organize into a brotherhood when you think that way. You cannot be petty and small-minded if you want to unionize. It would be nice to, for example, have standard levels of apprentice, journeyman and master photographer, and to have wage scales commensurate with said levels. This would make shooting for a major publication a straightforward process financially speaking, and may add clarity as to what an apprentice should charge to shoot a wedding as opposed to a journeyman.
Let me pause and say that I’m a political moderate AKA a registered independent. I’m not typically the guy who has strong opinions about labor unions. There are all sorts of counter-argumentative things to consider when organizing a photographic union, and price undercutting and scab behavior would be rampant, but this is just a thought exercise, not a proposal….
Actors and screenwriters have unions, so it’s not like you have to just build or fix or teach something in order to unionize. There can be artists (if we are indeed artists) who form unions. Many photographers would be utterly terrified of being blacklisted or denied work, but I also think many of us on the street photography side would consider joining such a union. Street photographers don’t get paid anyhow and most of us earn a living through conventional jobs. It’s the wedding, portrait, sports, magazine and commercial shooters who would bitch up and cross hypothetical picket lines in all likelihood. I understand that we all have families to feed, but a union would be beneficial to all of us in the long run and provide a much needed hierarchy and eventually structured payment to the whole genre. Of course, as I said earlier, most photographers seem resentful and jealous of other, more accomplished photographers. That is unfortunate and is part of the reason, along with affordable amateurism, that the whole of the photographic profession is drying up money-wise….
This is no micro-struggle. This is real shit that I’d love Peta-Pixel or one of the big dog blogs to address. We are dying and we need to band together in order to survive. Of course I could be wrong for caring about this, being that nobody else seems to….