A good conversation can lead you down some interesting paths every bit as easily as a roadmap and good shoes. I ought to know. I spend a lot of time talking when I should be working, but I come by this failing with the best of intentions, and such was the case this week in the studio. While working on a project with a friend and fellow photographer, one much younger than I (and really, who isn't?) the conversation turned to the way I started out in photography, and the profession as it was "back in the day." He put forth the proposition that there was a fundamental difference between the photography then and photography now, the digital revolution being the uncrossable Styx dividing the two eras. Anyone now, goes the argument, can have a camera (iPhone, etc) and put their shingle out. The older era required an unrealistic level of craftsmanship that in a digital world seems like the fourth wheel of a tricycle: unnecessary, and out of definition.
I call bullshit.
The inexpensive architecture of cameras, though perhaps more limited in scope, made them just as easily available to everybody. Remember Instamatics? You probably don't. But trust me, those and countless rangefinder and SLR cameras made their appearance at darn near every wedding I shot, as big a nuisance then as any modern-day Ansel Adams in the pew with a smartphone and a couple of snap-on lenses. And you could drop off the film at any same-day developing kiosk across the country; they were the Starbucks of their day. As for me? I was a diligent printmaker, color as well as black & white; the unwashed masses mere poseurs. How does this differ from our experience with photography today? I submit it does not.
The craftsmanship -- the art -- of image-making is no less demanding today; it may be the mastery of software and not chemistry and paper, but the skills needed to match your vision with an equally compelling finished image (print or otherwise) takes as much time and effort to master. So I'm not one to compare or complain. I had the good fortune to have been in a position to learn both and span the gap between the old and the new, and as much as I may miss the smell of hypo, I wouldn't go back.
So when someone says it's easier today, that all you need to do is learn a few keystrokes, well... again, I call you-know-what. It's only easy if you want it be, but true mastery still takes a lifetime.
We all have a long way to go.