When I first started reviewing concerts, I didn't see that many photographers in the pit. In fact, most of the time I was the only photographer. The attitude towards photographers was kinder because security guards were not overwhelmed by the handful of photographers trying to squeeze in front of the stage. It was also easier to compose shots because there were no cell phone screens blocking my view. Smart phones had not yet become mainstream, but they were about to change everything.
The first time I was aware of how much smart phones changed photography was when I was hired to assist a wedding photographer. My job was to get different angles of the wedding ceremony. At one point, I turned my camera to capture the audience lovingly watching the couple. Instead, what I saw were rows of people holding up their phones to either record or photograph. They hardly paid any attention to what was going on because they were clearly focused on getting the perfect picture.
Shortly afterwards, I began noticing changes at concerts. There were more of us in the photo pit. In fact, sometimes it was so crowded with other photographers that there was no way to move around in front of the stage. Security generally saw us more of a nuisance. Plus, when there weren't photo pits, I had to fight against the crowd holding their phones in the air and cutting off my view of the musicians.
Time moves forward and life continues to evolve. Smart phones have given people the ability to take as many pictures as they want whenever they want. Sometimes this proves to be a benefit. For example, during the riots of 2020, everyone with a cell phone became a journalist. People used their cell phones to document what they were witnessing so that Americans could understand what was really happening. However, there's also a downside to our obsession with their camera phone. People create an inundation of insignificant (and sometimes inappropriate) photos. Everyone thinks that they are a photographer because they photographically document their lives.
I'm not suggesting that you can't be a photographer if you use a camera phone. I personally don't put a lot of importance on the gear someone uses. I'm referring to attitude people have towards photography and photographers. There is a difference between someone who takes a picture and a photographer. Admittedly, defining what it means to be a photographer is a little more complex because people have different ideas as to what is involved with being a photographer or what defines a great image. For me, photography is a craft, and I view people as photographers when they treat it as such. This means there's development in style, technique, and artistry.
Every craft requires endless hours of practice. When I started playing the cello, I didn't walk around referring to myself as a cellist. It's a lot harder to pretend to be a good cellist, when you're a beginner. Taking a photo is easy, so most people think being a photographer is a lot easier than it really is. Do I think this will ever change? No, I truly don't. Artists have always been taken advantage of because it's much harder to quantify how much an artist contributes to their field and to society. However, it's still important to discuss the rights of artists and continue to improve their ability to succeed. Photographers deserve respect and not have their work stolen for commercial use. A thriving artistic community is one of the many attributes of a healthy democracy, and therefore, we should never take the arts for granted.