Schneider / the photographer plus

Martin Schneider

Schneider deserves a bit more space on his own. He documented industrial pollution, sometimes using special equipment to capture clouds of nitrus oxide not visible to the naked eye. At times he went beyond journalism to activism – for this photo, he projected the huge image of the skull of a cow which had been killed by pollutants above a Florida phosphate plant and photographed the whole thing. Twice interested parties tried to steal and sabotage this negative, before it was finally printed on the cover of Life magazine.

He saw photography as a means to an end, not as an end in and of itself. The subject is paramount and photography is just a tool that serves a non-photographic purpose.

Schneider does not consider himself primarily a photographer. Photography is simply work he does in the course of functioning as an environmental consultant. “I use the camera as Lewis Hine did as a sociologist to document the conditions he felt were so intolerable.” His aim is to involve concerned people throught the country to find solutions.
– from Eye of Conscience

This seems to be the direction the digital market is taking us – the professional niche for photographers who are just photographers is shrinking. You can still be a photographer who is also a journalist, a filmmaker, a concept man, a writer, but the as equipment becomes cheaper and it becomes easier and easier to learn through the net, photography without aim falls to the amateur, which I suppose has always been the case to some extent.

What’s changed is that the resources amateurs need to improve their technique and content is now free and readily accessible, so photography that is not attached to another skill, that doesn’t involve access that the average person with a day job cannot obtain, will be less and less marketable as hobbyists with time on their hands learn more and more. To me, this is a fairly good thing, since it sets professional standards higher. There will always be complaining about lost livelihoods by the old guard, by those already established in the industry, but that signals a lack of imagination about new possibilities than anything else.

This sea change is mirrored in what’s happening to photo stores and labs. Judging from a handful of the stores I’ve been in, some of these joints were kept in business mostly through the customer’s lack of choice and information. Now that the explosion of information, reviews and shops on the internet has expanded the customer’s horizons, we have no reason to stomach bad service or in some cases, outright racism. When I’m offered lower prices along with the chance to at least not be treated badly and insulted while handing over my money, I’ll take it.

I recently spoke to the owner of a local lab, who admitted that he hesitated to go digital 10 years ago, and is paying the price now. He’s a nice man with a child to support, but what can you do? Local regulars will try to support him as much as possible, but change is inevitable, and those who can adapt are rewarded. That might sound cutthroat and Darwinian, but I don’t think any of us really want a society that provides everyone a livelihood simply for existing. There has to be some measure of competence, some reward for innovation.

Photo buyers, customers have more choice now, so photographers, stores, magazines can’t get away with what they used to. This is no doubt a bad thing for those who have been treading water or who are unwilling to change, but for those who are hard-working and always willing to learn, how can any advance in technology ever be a bad thing?


~ by Jin on May 1, 2009.

8 Responses to “Schneider / the photographer plus”

  1. What has Martin Schneider been doing all these years? Where is he now?

  2. i am an old friend of Martins. i would like to get in contact with him. we have not spoke since 1970. he and my dad were friends as well.

    • I wish I knew what he was up to now, but unfortunately I have no idea. I simply found his work in a book. Wish I could help!

  3. I met Marty on a memorial party for Don Snyder yesterday. He is 84 now and he looked ok considering his age. Very talkative about what he did and experienced in life. Me being from Europe, I did not know who he was, he showed me photos of his work and we had a nice talk.

  4. @Jim. No he did not. He mentioned that he went through hardship over the last 40 years, which, respecting his private life, i will leave unmentioned here. As I said, it was a memorial for a mutual friend in New York, so it was more about that friend that evening.

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