is New York the only place to be as a photographer in the US? It seems a lot of photographers are moving there – even Mark Tucker. Forgive, but I'm curious.
That really depends on what your intentions are and what you want to do with your career. If you are fine with being a somewhat successful photographer that has good clients and can support a family, then anywhere should be a good place. And there is nothing wrong with this.
But if you want to be the best, shoot the best, work for the best clients, use the best equipment, charge the highest fees, then you really need to be in a cultural Hub, and NYC is a hub. This is where I want to be in my career in a few years, but Philly is not a hub; it is a pit stop between two hubs (sad to say about my home town, but it is true).
I thought being in Philly would give me advantages, such as being able to learn the business before going after NYC and DC (which was actually a good thing since Philly is a little more laid back), having a lower cost of living, and being able to support NYC and DC clients equally as well since I am in between both cities. My girlfriend, who is a food photographer, felt the same thing. However we are finding that a lot of NYC firms do not look at us as "great photographers," but as "great photographers who live in Philadelphia." I was flat out told by a very prestigious firm in NYC that they thought my work was exceptional and would consider working with me ... if I was in NYC, but since I am not what would be the point. It is frustrating for both of us.
To be the best, you need to be in a hub (or at least get established in one), plain and simple.