The following are all different ways that I’ve come across of describing the job of the person who assists photographers, and there are probably more. Is there any difference between them? And should it be important how you describe yourself?
This was the term I learnt first and believed to be the main and correct term. However these days I rarely hear it used. It sounds quite technical, almost forensic, and certainly isn’t a bad way to describe a job that requires an almost scientific attention to detail if done well.
This is also traditionally used to describe an assistant and seems to be considered correct by organisations such as The Sector Skills Council and Learndirect. The implication is that the role is a stepping stone onwards and upwards to the eventual role of photography. While this is almost certainly true in the majority of cases, many assistants (particularly in the States) see the role as a career in itself, so this can possibly be slightly misleading.
Although not commonly used, this is a term advocated by the Association of Photographers. While, as the AOP argues, it places the importance on the assistant and not on the photographer, the emphasis is maybe slightly misplaced for similar reasons to the phrase Assistant Photographer in that the implication is that you’re a photographer going through a certain phase of your career. Again, this is not necessarily true. Also, the role of assistant often requires entirely different skills to that of photography, so putting the two in the same boat is possibly muddying the waters somewhat.
Does what it says on the tin. Though some might argue that it’s a little demeaning and places the importance on the photographer rather than on the assistant. It’s unlikely to be used by an experienced assistant to describe themselves or by any assistant who correctly values their role as being more than just someone who carries out basic tasks.
This used to be used more commonly in the USA, particularly to describe career assistants (ie highly skilled assistants who assist as a career in itself rather than a stepping stone to becoming a photographer). However, it’s now arguably the term of choice in the UK too. It kind of skirts around the issue of who or what exactly an assistant is assisting (is photo supposed to be short for photographer’s, photographic, photography, or are we supposed to think the role actually involves being an assistant to a photograph??)
Again, seems to be used fairly frequently in the USA. It’s fairly vague though (as in fact is photo assistant) and if anything implies some sort of dedication to the higher ideal of photography in some Ancient Greek sort of way. Some might argue this is fairly accurate after three 16 hour days on the trot…
When I originally wrote this article, I did a quick trawl through the search phrases that people type into search engines that lead them to Photoassist. Considering this site features in the top three results of Google for all the above search terms (with the exception of Assisting Photographer where it’s fifth) this should give a rough indication of how commonly each term is used, even if it’s not exactly scientific. Over a six month period, these are the proportions of search terms as a percentage of the total:
Photographers assistant 33.7%
Photography assistant 25.8%
Photo assistant 10.6%
Assistant photographer 10.2%
Photographic assistant 10%
Photographer assistant 9.7%
For what it’s worth, the phrase ‘assistant photographer’ now seems to be a bit more popular, as does ‘photo assistant’.
Interesting that the phrase ‘photographer assistant’ crops up almost as frequently as ‘photographic assistant’. To me this phrase implies that many people just don’t know what to call an assistant so just hedge their bets but putting the two words into the search and hoping Google comes up with the goods. Possibly photography assistant and photo assistant come in 2nd and 3rd due to the bulk of the searches from the USA. It seems that there’s not much between assistant photographer and photographic assistant(I’m assuming these come below the two above for reasons of geography again). The phrase Photographer’s Assistant is number one I’d assume because of the fact that it’s not necessarily either a particularly US or UK term, plus due to the nature of the way people search the web it’s probably the most descriptive way people see in their minds of letting the search engine know what they’re after. This probably isn’t a great way to draw any conclusions in fact as what people type into a search engine and what they use in everyday speech aren’t necessarily the same thing at all – but it is at least mildly interesting I hope you’ll agree.
So what conclusions if any can be drawn? Personally, even though it doesn’t seem to be used that much, I still like photographic assistant as it doesn’t have the potentially demeaning qualities of photographer’s assistant and it makes more of the fact that the role of assistant and photographer are completely different jobs than do assistant photographer or assisting photographer. Photo assistant and photography assistant are probably both ok if you don’t really want anyone to know exactly what you do. Take your pick though – at the end of the day it’s up to what you feel comfortable with. And if you don’t like any of them, you could always just say you’re a Photoassist.
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