January is, of course, the traditional time of the year for introspection and making resolutions for various self-improvement instigations and abatements. January is also the typical time for photography enthusiasts to make any number of resolutions concerning equipment, projects, and development. You may recall that last year at this time I wrote an essay titled "Ah, January!"** offering thoughts and suggestions towards such ends.
This year I want to offer a slightly different suggestion. Have you ever taken one giant step back to just ask yourself why you photograph at all?
Vocational photographers are, of course, exempted from such interrogation. And certainly one's motives for snapping family, friends, and special life events (travel, graduation, release from prison, etc.) are universally self-evident.
But why do you photograph beyond those categories? What are you getting from it? What do you strive to achieve with your camera? What role does enjoyment of new equipment really play in your photographic activities? What do you actually do with all your photos? Who do you consider the audience for your photographs to be? Is that the audience you want? Do you model yourself against particular photographers and/or types of photography?
Our answers to such questions can be more than idle musings. They can, indeed they should, help crystallize some of our photographic intentions for the coming year. But even if you can't mine any answer more profound than "'Cuz it's fun to do!" (which is perfectly legitimate), I think it's still worth earnestly visiting the questions at least once each year. One year you just might be inspired to answer differently.
Or you might even decide that photography is no longer something you want to directly pursue. For example, I know more than a few people who were once avid and in some cases rather renowned photographers, but at some point decided that appreciating, collecting, and/or teaching photography offered them more personal fulfillment than actually practicing it.
I also know several folks who used the advent of digital photography to reboot their practice by retracting and simplifying their gear spheres. They divested themselves of all their film-era equipment and now use only pocketable carry-anywhere cameras, mostly of the fixed-lens design. To a person they each remark that this change has had a powerfully clarifying effect on their work and brought them much more enjoyment.
Whyever, whatever, and however you photograph this year here's wishing my fellow TOP readers a healthy, peaceful and interesting 2013!
* This title is not to be confused with Robert Adams's excellent collection of essays published in 2005 by Aperture under the title Why People Photograph. Highly recommended reading, but not directly related.
** You may recall the dreamy little twilight winter scene, below, that I included with that piece:
This is how that same location appears today, exactly one year later:
Such documentary presentations are something that photography is uniquely qualified to produce, and would certainly qualify as an answer to the title question!
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ranjit Grover: "I guess it is bit like climbing the mountains. Why should any one climb a mountain? It is a compulsive behavior. So is photography. Many photographers do not even care to show their work to others. The mere act of getting the picture is what gives them the satisfaction. Documentation is only part of the story. For whom is the documentation done? For the present generation or the coming generations? Would they care? Who is interested in the photo of my aged neighbor? Obviously there would be no direct, clear cut, unambiguous answer for that age old question 'Why do we shoot pictures?' It is a profoundly philosophical question that will not get an answer for a very, very long time."
Animesh Ray: "Why do I photograph? I wanted to be a painter very early in life but soon found out that I lack both the ability and the talent. Instead, I found that I was intuitive with the camera. Ever since it has been the easier way of giving vent to a creative urge. Now it appears that I might indeed leave one or two prints on the wall that my descendants could mull over after I am gone. That is the driver."
Roger Overall: "You ask great questions, Ken, but I'm so troubled by your two photographs at the end of the post, I can't concentrate hard enough to answer them. My mind is hungry for a third photograph next year of the site. I want a happy ending to the story you're telling with the two photographs so far. I need a conclusion in part three that eases my mind and shows that all is well with the park. I hope to see that it is improved, rather than destroyed. Will you show us the ending in a third picture?"
icexe: "Years ago I used to care so much about the art, about making that perfectly exposed, perfectly composed, mind-blowing image. But with the advent of digital photography and the Internet, it seems no matter how great an image I made, hundreds of other people out there already did it, and did it far better than I did.
"I often felt like I was spending thousands of dollars on equipment just to make 'me too' derivative photos that really no one but a few facebook friends might spend more a few seconds looking at. I entered a few photo contests, only to feel even less capable when my 'best' attempts wouldn't even make it past the middle of the pack at best.
Finally, I said to myself, 'Really, who was I trying to impress anyway?'
"So recently my photos have become far more personal; I take photos for me, to capture moments that mean something to me. I've mostly dumped the big, heavy, expensive gear for a simpler MFT setup with a fixed lens.
"I don't care as much now about 'perfection,' I care much more about emotion. I know the stories of all the images I frame on my wall, they may seem uninteresting to most people, but to me they are a reminder of snippets from my life. Ultimately, these are the photos worth taking."
Mark: "Well, it's a given I'm never a featured comment, but that doesn't stop me from offering my two cents. Why do I photograph? All I need do is look at the walls in my home all adorned with my photos over the years, from when my kids were babies to now, when the oldest is 26 and the youngest 21. The memories, the smiles, the teardrops, are all the proof positive I need that I took up the right hobby. I'll practice it until my last breath."
Mike replies: Best comment so far. :-)
bertram eiche: "I take photos because it satisfies me. I like to enhance my memories with beauty. I'm far beyond the 10,000 hours rule. Photography became just a part of me. I'm never without a camera. Just love it."
Steve Caddy: "The answer for me came before I started actively asking the question. I'd already half decided to give the hobby away in favor of devoting time to focus on other things; family, work, cycling...that kind of thing. My wife was pregnant and I was going to have less time to devote to my already too numerous (and too consuming) interests.
"My wife doesn't care much for 'photography.' She tends to bemoan anything larger than pocketable or more expensive than a couple of hundred dollars and sees pictures as 'photo of girl', 'photo of lamp-post' regardless of light, composition, moment or metaphor. When our son was unexpectedly born at 23 weeks gestation she said to me: 'Go home and get a camera. I want you to take pictures.'
"I went home and got a Mamiya 645, an M6, and an old DSLR. We took a lot of pictures of each other, our lifeless boy, the room, the passing light as the outside world kept going; the thick weight of emptiness that descends over you at such times.
"In the weeks after we came home from the hospital, going through the images, there were three 6x4.5 black and whites of my wife holding our tiny, tiny son and, seeing them, I started to understand what we had been through.
"We wouldn't have had that if I didn't make those pictures, and the ones from the other cameras weren't the same. Somehow in the sorrow, the big, slow, deliberate, heavy one, with the controls that are workable through tear-filled eyes and mechanical noises as real and physical as ourselves was the one that made images that would teach me something about myself, my wife, the strength of our marriage and the meaning of our children.
"When I saw those photos, that's when I knew not to stop making pictures. Even if nobody but we see them, they help us know the world and ourselves."