A previous column on professional status for photographers ended up concluding that if it exists, it is only in the mind. Or minds, I should say…the minds of the photographers and, if they are successful showmen and show-women, the minds of their customers. Done with confidence – done seamlessly – and done with timing, it can all go very well.
The next question for definition is that of trade – and here state and federal law can come into play far more. The shop till and the various tax departments are the sort of things that legislators can get their teeth into. Commercial law is a voluminous thing.
Fortunately at the retail level, trade is retail trade. People bring money and exchange it for goods. Both the goods and the money have to be valid or the law swings into place and remedies it. There can be a mental and verbal fight between seller and buyer as to how much money and how many goods, but in most cases they seem to be able to compromise their differences.
Wedding photography is also a trade. A trade of time and skill for money. The skills may be technical and organisational – and with the best wedding photographers they are also inter-personal. The nature of the day and the vulnerability of the bridal couple sometimes lead to the trade being extremely expensive, but then when it comes to weddings the same can be said of the catering trade, the dressmaking trade, and the paper napkin trade. Regulation of these areas is really best done by the bride and groom…
Commercial photography in all its divisions; advertising, real estate, illustration, fashion, portraiture, etc. is pure trade. Sometimes the photographer drives it, sometimes it is driven by others. There is no essential difference from a commercial kitchen where orders arrive at the stove and finished dinners are handed out at the counter.
Art photography is a trade only when someone actually buys the result – until then it is something between the flight of a soul and the flap of a wallet.
Art photographers may shoot images that sell, and be astonished that they are wanted by others. Other shooters may try to sell things and are equally surprised that they do not move. There is a certain latitude in appearance, dress, and behaviour allowed to art photographers so perhaps they are rewarded whichever way the market goes. The naturally scruffy may well benefit.
When employed as a retail worker in a camera shop I would occasionally get asked whether trade was good. What the questioner really meant was – has there been much money changing hands. Yes or no to that, the actual concept of trade IS good – provided it is open and fair. And always with the pious hope that people on both sides of the counter will not be greedy prats.