Photographers have a rather high opinion of themselves. They are probably the least earners in terms of industrial average and have rather substantial investments in their assets, but take offense when somebody gives credit to their gear.
If you are a painter, you could argue that it is your talent and skill that contribute most to the product you are developing. After all, having good quality canvas or paint alone is not going to translate into good painting. But a good quality lens and a good quality camera will give a good quality photo UNLESS the operator sucks. Of course, great photographers can get great results with great cameras, but the skill and talent necessary for great photos is not as great as photographers would like to believe. No offense, but we are in this rumor site where we talk nothing but gear -- so, gear does matter quite a bit in photography.
So, when somebody compliments your gear, just smile and reply back, "Thank you, without this expensive gear, my photo would look shitty just like coming from your iphone." That is the truth.
However, there is no way that average joe would take a good picture with a great camera/lens combo. If he could, then photography studios would not have a photographer in them, they would rent the equipment to you for 15 minutes to do your family shot/portrait/boudoir/whatever by yourself.
look at the light and the choice of background in the pictures your uncle/nephew/colleague who doesn't understand photography takes.
The operator takes the picture, hands down. The expensive gear only makes your life easier, allows for more opportunities and enables you to utilize your potential more. It won't improve your pictures if you are clueless.
I think you're missing the main point I believe poias is making. I believe the point is that photography is a combination of three things (a) technical skill; (b) equipment that's up to the job; (c) good aesthetic judgement.
Many photographers think that (a) is hard to develop. With good teaching, and a willing (not necessarily talented) student, "average Joe" can develop decent technical skill pretty fast. I have seen it happen several times.
As we all agree, (b) is pretty easy to buy if you have the money.
(c) is a major point of contention, and I think it's the main issue poias is addressing. Many photographers have the absurd notion that photographic "talent" is some innate spiritual attribute. That doesn't account for folks who don't start paying attention to art until after retirement, or following a traumatic event. You can always engage in confirmation bias
to proclaim that so-and-so was "destined" to be an artist, but that's a steaming pile of freshly produced organic fertilizer. While we know that some people have specific deficits that make it harder to do visual arts (acuity, poor depth perception or color vision), there has been, to date, no test to show which 3-year olds have artistic "talent" and which do not.
Photographic ability, like other "talents," is some inscrutable combination of heredity and development. It is entirely possible that "Uncle Joe," who takes crappy pictures, will one day metaphorically wake-up and start learning to be a better photographer. It won't happen overnight, but it can happen. You don't know who doesn't have talent until they acquire the interest, and put in the effort to learn. And one more thing: at any given level of skill, from incompetent to genius, "better" equipment helps. (by "better" I mean more suited to your desired end-result)