Why do photography?

No Loitering


St. Andrews

Tall ships Victoria

Kamloops Lake 2



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.

On the Subject of Film

When the subject of film comes up my first impulse is to flippantly say something like, “Oh, film was nice, but no serious photographer would use film.”  Well, that’s not right. And should any of us be putting a definition on what a “serious photographer” is?

In my opinion, film, and those photographers that use it have positioned themselves in a new place among image-makers. These days most photojournalists and commercial photographers employ digital technology, but I think those that are interested in pushing this medium into a creative place are increasingly becoming aware of the unique characteristics of film.

A film purist can easily set up a home lab with an enlarger and complete chemical process, but there are also those that have embraced both digital and film and the results of the technological cross breeding can be exciting. Film has, in my opinion, a tactile quality that is different than digital capture.

Let’s not get into the boring discussion of film vs digital. That’s become wearisome. Film is different than digital. I think it depends on how one wants to show a subject to viewers. And as I wrote, I think the technological cross breeding of film and digital is exciting and rewarding.

The dialogue now may be about computers, monitors, and software. With film we wanted the best enlargers, and enlarger light sources. What lens was mounted on the enlarger was as important as the lens on our cameras. I had a cabinet filled with many different kinds of enlarging papers from around the world, and another stacked with a wide assortment of developing chemicals for both film processing and printing. All this is still available if one is willing to take the time searching out suppliers.

Serious digital photographers are faced with expensive computers and Photoshop’s steep learning curve. Those serious practitioners of film photography will still be dealing with lots of learning. However, quality film cameras, and quality film processing equipment is cheap and the required processing and printing equipment can easily be found languishing at garage sales. I think one needs to search out the best film equipment in the same way as the best digital hardware.

I don’t use, or even think about, film much, but in the last two weeks I have had several conversations with different young photographers that are making images with film cameras and starting to accumulate the equipment to process film and print pictures.  I will admit I enjoy talking about all that. I liked film cameras and same as with today’s photographers, I thought about and researched those cameras in my quest for what would fit my needs the best.

On the subject of using film photography and digital photography, this week has also found me reproducing a client’s very old photographs. (some easily over 100 years old) I photographed each image, loaded them into my computer, then using PhotoShop corrected the fading and discoloration, added contrast, retouched cracks, and finally sharpened and saved them on a CD.  Most photographs were over 40 years old will start to fade soon, if they haven’t already. And those boxes of family history may be lost as people move them to damp basements or garages when additional space is needed.

Making a quality digital image from the negatives or slides of those wonderful old family photographs and saving it on a space saving CD is ideal.  As I mentioned these two mediums work just fine together and a matching print can be made it the future.

I welcome the chance to exchange thoughts with those photographers who are using film in this day of digital technology. Many see it as a “retro” kind of thing, but maybe it’s not that at all. Including film in the creative and artistic process of photography is just one more factor in the continuing evolution of this exciting medium.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com