Why do photography?

No Loitering

Guitar

St. Andrews

Tall ships Victoria

Kamloops Lake 2

Sternwheel

Coca-Cola

Forgotten shops

Yellow & Red

Just Waiting

After a discussion with a fellow who told me he has become bored with photography I thought I’d revisit the following from an earlier post.

I once asked “Why do photography” to members of an online forum and received some unremarkable responses like, “because I can” and “because I have a camera”.  Well, I suppose it is all about the camera to lots of people. However, there were two responses that I really liked, the first from someone called Soenda who eloquently wrote,

“ Because taking pictures has helped me see better. Before, I was less aware or the way light strikes leaves. I didn’t notice the symmetry of birds on a wire. Sunsets were masses of agreeable colour; now they are gold, pink, lavender and blue”.

The second from someone named Laura who philosophically said,

“Because when I look at my life, I cannot say I have done nothing. The proof exists that I have seen at least a wee bit of the world. I take pictures because it is artistic expression, and I think when we repress our artistic nature, we do ourselves no good, no good at all. I take pictures because it is fun. I can spend the entire day taking pictures, and it could not be a day better spent…”

For me, photography changes. There are times when I just want to play and am interested in nothing more than experimenting, my goal just seeing how something works.   I enjoy photographing my friends, family and pets. Pictures that have meaning only to me, but might never go anywhere other than on my computer’s screen saver.  And of course, until I retired, photography was the way I earned my living.

There are those times when I try to visually create an image that says something to others about how I see and feel about something. I can’t really say that the medium of photography is a passion for me, but I am enthusiastic. It’s just something I think about a lot and do.

Many use photography as a way to express themselves artistically, of which I heartily agree. Expressing oneself through photography is easy, as it doesn’t require the trapping of other mediums like painting or sculpture, and merely requires a camera.

Photography, for those who first wanted to make photographs, became accessible during the 1800s. The first surviving image made by Jacques Daguerre was of some artistically arranged plaster casts resting on a window ledge in 1837, and a short 20 years later photographers were wandering the North American wilderness and newly constructed cities creating photographs with the same intensity, all though not in the same numbers, as we are today.

Why take pictures? For some it is to document history, we know about the civil war in the 1860s through the photographs of Mathew Brady and the Vietnam War in the 1970s by David Kennerly.   Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams, Elliott Porter, Imogene Cunningham, Bret Weston and others gave us their visual opinions of an early American landscapes.

There were those like Dorothea Lang and Walker Evens that during the great depression of the 1930s told us about the human condition. While Photographers Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon and Canadian Yousuf Karsh, celebrated the beauty of the human expression”  paving the way for modern portrait photographers.

For some the question “Why do photography?” may be very philosophical and for others practical. Soenda commented, “ Because taking pictures has helped me see better.” And Laura wrote, “I take pictures because, when I look at my life, I cannot say I have done nothing.”

I wonder what readers would answer.

18 responses to “Why do photography?

  1. I feel like I have been given an essay question for a final examination. Why do I do photography? Photography serves as a kind of bridge between my sensitive, creative side and my analytical, technical side. Normally I operate in an either/or mode, but photography helps me to integrate the two sides and feel authentically me. In some ways it is like learning a new foreign language. I have been told that my personality changes when I speak French (I was a French major in college) and photography has a similar effect on me–it causes me to experience the world in a different way. I could go on and on, but those are some of the ways why I “do” photography.

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    • I like your comment, “serves as a kind of bridge between my sensitive, creative side and my analytical, technical side..” Mike. And yes, as with most art, photography allows us to “experience the world in a different way”.

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  2. “Photography helps people to see” -one of my favorite quotes from Berenice Abbott. Why I “do photography” is it helps me to see and hopefully others, too. Terrific post, John.

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    • I think many artists create for the same reason as you Sallyann. What strikes me is how easy photography is to embrace even on our hardest moments. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate that.

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  3. Yep! I get the same feeling as Mike… 😉 And it would not be a short essay either 😉

    I learned very early in life that things can change very fast and that you never know if they will come back in some form or other… And I think that my fascination with photography started with that realization even as a kid of 11. It was a way of going back, remembering when the new situation wasn’t so much fun (yet).
    With time, growing up, that field grew too… but the element of recording change remains a part of it as it is of life… be it people, a city, a landscape, the different moods of the sea… and indeed, details, looking at all that in a different way… and capturing just that one moment you wanted…
    If for a reason I cannot get out of the house with my camera or get stuck in work stuff, I just don’t feel happy after a while and start having ‘withdrawal symptoms’, getting rather grumpy… 🙂

    So, maybe it’s an addiction? 😉

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    • Diane Arbus wrote, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” I expect that you might have that feeling sometime. Maybe it is an addiction Nil.
      I also like that you wrote, “capturing just that one moment you wanted”.

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  4. Hi John, I must go back about a year ago or so…when one of your readers said ” I shot what makes my eyes smile ” that’s been my motto for many years ..self satisfaction ..

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  5. I started caring about photography last year when I found my dad’s camera. Before that I thought that it was a waste of time and resources when doing it because I was so focused in my rationality and always saw things straight. When starting using his camera I found a new way to have fun in my spare time! Besides that I found myself thinking differently from my previous “me” and way more observant. Now I can’t stop!

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