For many decades, no Jewish celebration was complete without a professional photographer to record every precious moment. This was before the advent of the smartphone, a device that has annoyingly turned every user into an amateur shutterbug. But a smartphone does not an Annie Leibovitz make, which is one reason that the professional photographer is not extinct. Is the photographer, however, an endangered species? That requires a closer inspection and an “in camera” review, so to speak.
Photography is both art and science, a blend of vision and precision, a mixture of will and skill and a concoction of ease and “say cheese.” It therefore takes a certain type of person to excel in the field of photography, usually a people-person with patience who aims to please. Corralling large groups in front of the lens to stand still and smile for several minutes is no easy task.
Most people fidget when they have nothing to do and, strangely, standing perfectly still in a relaxed state without talking can be very difficult for the average person, especially Jews who instinctively are prone to schmoozing, kibitzing and schlepping. Thus, the photographer must keep the crowd captivated so that they do not break the pose and ruin the shot.
At weddings and other big events, professional photographers are still widely used, though arguably with less fanfare than before. There was a time when the photographer was an indispensable superstar, a time when a family portrait via Polaroid simply wouldn’t do and a time when the show could not go on without the proud and perfectionist paparazzo. Sadly, that time may have passed, but we should nevertheless continue to celebrate the now unheralded and underappreciated lensmen among us.
In the Jewish world, having access to a professional photographer was and still is particularly important to Sabbath-keepers in terms of the in-between moments, i.e., the weekday moments between Shabbat when photography is permitted. Just imagine how many momentous moments on Shabbos are never filmed for posterity. For those who are Shomer Shabbos, there are no photographs of Friday night fun, groovy get-togethers around the lunch table or in-shul bar/bat mitzvah bashes. From a recording perspective, it is as though these events never happened.
The photographer sometimes must double as a social worker because family photos often create weird tension and promote unexpected raw reactions. Spouses sometimes bicker while siblings sometimes snicker, making the session less about photography and more about group therapy. Of course, sometimes the photographer winds up saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, sparking an absurd diva-like tirade. The best photographers avoid such nightmares by staying patient and saying as little as possible. The worst photographers make the whole session about themselves and constantly blurt out patronizing instructions to their subjects. When a photographer stupidly makes these avoidable and unnecessary mistakes, it turns the photo-shoot into a photo-shoot yourself in the foot.
A professional photographer often can do things that an amateur cannot. You would be hard-pressed to find a professionally-taken photo with a photobomb in the background or replete with red-eye, closed-eye or forehead shine. True pros will not permit hair disasters, wardrobe malfunctions or creepy smiles. In fact, the only downside of a professional photographer, other than cost, is the sheer number of photos they are likely to take. That said, they usually do not charge by each “click” of the camera so be patient and enjoy the paparazzi treatment.
Final thought: For a fleishig (meat) event, the photographer should not ask folks to “say cheese.” Instead, “say chopped liver.”
Yonatan Levi writes humor columns for the Cleveland Jewish News.