Photography and Elitist Language: Something Has to Change

Members of the Reddit community have spoken, and these are their least favorite buzz words and phrases from the photography industry.

Like any walk of life, the photography industry has its own language. There’s nothing wrong with that. It makes communication more fun and interesting. But let’s be honest, some of the phrases can be slightly cringy and cheesy. In this piece, we look what which “code words” grind the gears of the Reddit community. And we’ll also explore the importance of inclusive language.

Photography Industry Jargon

Below are some of the more memorable comments left by Redditors.

One user wrote:

”purist’. I’m fairly confident anyone who uses that term is just a photo snob.”

While another said:

“”mini sessions”. My local Facebook group is overrun with women wearing sunhats in wheat fields who advertise $50 mini sessions for families, kids, and seniors.”

This Redditor made his thoughts known in regard to those who choose to do little to no editing:

“‘Straight out of camera’ and/or ‘unedited’ being used as a badge of legitimacy.”

And in a more humorous addition, a Reddit user had this to say:

“A natural light photographer. (Hasn’t figured out lighting yet.)”

Of course, every photographer has their own terms and phrases that bug them. For me, I’m tired of reading “the deep relationship between” and “artistic visual storyteller” in almost every PR pitch I receive – which brings me on to my next point.

Language Should Never Be Exclusionary

I read press releases on a daily basis from photographers and PR reps. And, of course, the job of the PR rep is to sell the brand and quality of the photographer they represent. But many of them use language which I find to be exclusionary. It’s the type of language the common man and woman never use. I get it; they’re trying to make the work seem more intellectual, which in their world means it can hold more value and importance. This kind of elitist approach is often linked to documentary work that the artist hopes will drive change. But the problem is, by using language and tone that appeals to a smaller group of people – those who describe themselves as intellects – others may feel turned off by the work.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the deeper and more complex the language is, the more basic the photos. You can pull any amount of words out, but none of them will hide average photographs. That’s where the real complexity and brilliance should be: the photos, not the language that accompanies them.

Include Everybody

I’ve been in and around the art world my whole life. I know of all the little cliques and ego-driven nonsense that comes with it. But art (and that includes photography), is a beautiful form of communication. It’s not only for the “holier than thou’s” and the university-trained individual; it’s for everybody.

And it’s my opinion that we should use inclusive language to appeal to everybody. We should use language that allows everybody to understand the message the photographer is sending. “Code words” are cool, but they shouldn’t alienate. And affluent language on a press release won’t make photographs any better.

It’s funny where a simple Reddit thread can take you. But I’m happy I was able to get that off my chest! Now, back to making photographs!

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host professional photographers within the industry.