We all know it's not about the camera, but it doesn't seem to matter; everyone asks about gear anyway. The most frequently asked question of any photographer has to be, "What kind of camera do you use?" That always strikes me as a bit odd since we don't enjoy a good meal and then ask the chef what kind of pots and pans she used. I suppose there's a hidden assumption at work here, one that says photography, unlike other less technically oriented art forms, is dependent more on the gear and less on the gear handler.
This may be partially true up to a certain level. Today, the average point-and-shooter, outfitted with a mid-range automatic camera from any of the top makers, can take pretty darned good snapshots with little-to-no training. This overall improvement in gear has democratized photography to the point that it's sometimes hard to pick out a photographer in a crowd. Or to look at it another way, it's becoming harder and harder to find a crowd that isn't chock-full of photographers.
The upside for the fine art photographer is that not much has changed in the realm of art. When put up against armies of serious amateurs armed with serious gear, the fine art photographer still brings the two biggest guns; an artist's eye and a creative temperament. Certainly, neither are exclusive to the fine art photographer, but they also can't be bought online at B&H Photo or Amazon.com. They have to be earned the old fashioned way, with lots of thought, effort, and long term dedication (you know, that boring stuff). One thing's for certain; without the essential elements of creativity and vision, no amount of sophisticated gear will produce an end result that qualifies as art.