I’ve been talking a lot with people about the Photography Dominance Hierarchy. I’ve ended up making some charts to help explain it clearly to people and help them understand where I feel I fit into the mix as well as my contemporaries. The Photography Dominance Hierarchy This is really based off of fame, and only fame, as a metric for success in photography. If you don’t think that’s a good metric, then this is a bad chart for you.
I’ll take the time to break down every level here:
Celebrity. You bring a lot of fame to people you work with, and everyone in the hierarchy either follows you, or are effected by the work you are putting out. Your value is your ability to create trends and fame to others. Ex: Nick Knight
Regional Success. You are heavily followed by people in a general group. These people are often teachers who have achieved a level where people who have access to them are interested in what they are doing, and are answering questions for people lower in the hierarchy. They go on podcasts Ex: Jennifer McIntyre
Local Notoriety. You’ve saturated a region, and people follow you because they are interested in the value you provide by you working with them directly. Local photographers who get paid for this to be their side gig fall into this category. Seattle Ex: John J Martinotti
Wanting Notoriety. People who want notoriety, but don’t know how to get it. They spam their images on Facebook Groups and Reddit and work with mostly talent at a similar level. Ex: Your friend who is very adamant with a Camera.
General Public. People who aren’t trying to get photography fame, but who are paying some attention.
So, how can you use the chart?
This can be broken down further obviously, and the position of some people are unclear but you can kind of get a feel of where people are by looking at this chart. This doesn’t have anything to do with skill levels. There are people in the general public who are amazing artists and photographers, and you can become a celebrity with no skill at all. It’s just referring to notoriety. Qualities like marketability are monitored in this hierarchy, and also how good you are at marketing and business. This is to aim for the top and trying to figure out how to get to the next level.
The biggest problem with climbing the hierarchy, is getting trapped at a certain level. I’m not sure how or why some people get trapped, but you definitely see it. Some people never leave spamming their photos in Facebook groups wanting notoriety and unsure how to get noticed locally. Some people get stuck at the local level just trying to work with all the new models- staying busy but with no path to leave local. Some people gain regional fame and get comfortable teaching or musing. I’m not fully sure how you get from Regional to celebrity status… I would assume it would be by working with celebrities.
So, where do I think I am on the chart?
I’m right there with every other local notoriety name you can think of. I see how Jennifer McIntyre made the leap- she took classes and paid a lot of money to up her skill set. It also got her connected with people on that level and got her name out there by being connected with them. It also naturally allowed her to get better much more rapidly than I have been able to. Once she gained the skills needed, she could then teach others- immediately being valuable enough to influence local photographers. There are multiple paths to the level of success, that definitely seems like a fast worthwhile method.
The other path to Regional Notoriety is exhibits and being a vendor selling prints. Its not enough to just start doing that, in the same way it’s not just enough to start teaching classes, but it definitely what gets you to the next level. I would assume the best way for me to get there is to both be a vendor, and start taking classes until I am good enough to teach.
One flaw is that once you start teaching classes, you also seem to get stuck at the Regional Notoriety level. I can’t think of an example of a teacher who kept teaching who got to the celebrity level.