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Wednesday, 11 July 2007


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I would argue the act of picture taking is just as important as the accumulation of photos taken. Picture taking has had a profound impact on me on how I view the world the world around me. I'm constantly seeing things in a photographic way, framing fleeting moments in my day to day life. Sometimes I have a camera in front of me sometimes not. I say, don't worry about it. Negatives and digital files are just a byproduct of photography, not to be taken too seriously.

You are Sisyphus, rolling the rock uphill. The act gives your life meaning and purpose. The legacy is irrelevant. Enjoy the process as a thing in itself.

Every few years I spend hours digging through those boxes of old photos. For me it brings back memories of my childhood, old friends I haven't seen in years, past girlfriends, my parents when they were younger, etc.

You know, the funny thing is, the handful of "Technically and Artistically Perfect Photographs" that I've taken over the years have less and less meaning over time, while the badly composed and crumpled Polaroid snapshots of childhood friends, college buddies, and family seem to become more precious and meaningful to me.

I have to keep reminding myself in this age of digital that its sometimes too easy to hit the delete button on a technically inferior snapshot in the never-ending quest for photographic perfection. I worry that I may be throwing away some important moments that I'll end up regretting.

The difference for me is my website. FWIW I have received thousands of hits from people all over the world. People thanking me, people wanting to buy prints, people who are interested in my work, people who visit just to see some photos, people who want to learn my photography techniques when I share tutorials. For me the web is great because it allows me to distribute ideas and images at the same time, sharing with others what I have learned. I guess it involves a little storytelling, like how you got the photos, or why you thought it was a good photo... stuff you wouldn't think is important to anyone else until you get an email praising you for your insight, or critiquing your sense of humor.

Get a photoblog up and start sharing images, tell us why they are important, and tell us what you have learned creating them. Update it regularly and you will make lots of new friends who will want to share ideas and maybe even purchase a print or two. Just this year I met someone through my website who gave me food and lodging when I traveled to India, how great is that? It wouldn't have been possible if I didn't share my work or have a website.

Just a thought.

You ask "Is the whole point of this my own personal amusement, or am I serving some greater purpose?"

So what's wrong with "my own personal amusement?" What "greater purpose" did you have in mind?

Try exchanging "my own personal amusement" for "my own enlightenment." Then I'd ask, what else is there?

All the rest, I'd suggest, is imagined ego gratification.

I like to think that I add some value to the paper I print on, and that no harm was done in the making. As for the time devoted to the practice, I spent so many years in solitude, in darkness and light, that my children had to wait until the third marriage and age fifty two to be born.
I chose to follow the muse, what choice did I have?

Well, they say the last shirt doesn't have any pockets. So there's no purpose in collecting things, yet we keep doing it.

On the other side, I've started over twice with a bag of clothes and a credit card. Does that make me stop owning things? No, but it gives me a better perspective on the temporary aspect of any type of ownership.

In my mind it's really about the journey, not the destination. You may still have the opportunity to discover new techniques, new subjects to shoot. The only way to find out is to keep shooting, and if you do it just for yourself, you're even less constrained in what you do.

If leaving a legacy is important to you, share the fruits of your journey already traveled, or yet to be traversed. Maybe you're tired of selling prints or books, but you may find joy in sharing with the photographic community what you experienced in your journey. It's the difference in the life of others that will make them remember you.

I've been asking myself the same question (as Gordon's) - and by that I don't mean to imply that I am great photographer or anything like that.
I have maybe 100,000+ digital photos taken in 5 continents, plus who knows how many negs and slides, never scanned.
I've setup a smugmug account, and never uploaded anything - guess for fear that it may be irrelevant.
But I think the pics I'd like to upload are of things, people, scenes, streetlife, museums, whatever - that may be either interesting, or striking, or poetic, or at least a curiosity, to people who might (emphasis on might) somehow find themselves in my site.
I don't think I am saving my images for posterity, or for myself or my descendants. When I die, they'll die with me, and probably should.

It's said that Jack Kerouac would sometimes write poems and then throw them in the fire, as an exercise in nonattachment.

Each year I end up with dozens of images which are "good work." But I could go through the 60 years I've been photographing, and probably edit out less than 100 worth printing, archival matting, and framing. But that's what I should do, and probably, so should you.

In 1850 there were, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 1 billion people in the world. Name 10. Off the top of your head. 10 that 10 randomly-chosen people today would also be able to name. Legacy? What legacy? We do it for ourselves.

I too am in the age group mentioned here, with the usual list of ailments of a 56 year old NA male (North American, as opposed to Not Applicable) Since being given the stack of prescriptions, I too have had reason to reflect on legacy.
You say your wife has taken your photos and made scrapbooks - I would say this is the most important legacy we can leave. We pass on a sense of place to our children, and our grandchildren. How cool is that?
My wife's uncle's legacy is a letter to his children. Took him 10 years to write it. Turned into a family history spanning 10 generations, and takes at least an inch on our bookshelf.
It's not the awards, as Jan says, it's the journey.

I'm 51 and been asking the same question(s) for too many years myself. I once convinced myself that if I could come up with 100 pictures that I could really be proud of when all was said and done, at least I'd have accomplished something semimonumental- what exactly, I don't know. Anyway, I got the 100, and the dreams of being "discovered" (first before the hair went, now sometime before death) aren't quite that frequent anymore. But I still secretly aspire to a book, and maybe 5 of my promised 15 minutes. Most likely that'll stay a dream, and fortunately, I've done other things in life.

Regrets sure, but photography is the one passion that still remains fresh decades later- and I'm thankful, at least, for that. And maybe, just maybe, someone many years from now will brush the post apocalyptic dust from the remains of my negs and say, "Hey, this guy wasn't half bad."

I'm 60 and never had children, so the same thoughts have been going through my head for some time. I'm an obsessive organiser and have thousands of my images on CD, but I do wonder, why am I doing this? What's the point?

But after my father died in 2001 aged 78, I started scanning all his photos going back to his childhood. He was a keen photographer and I soon had hundreds of family and location photos. Then I added my family shots into the mix and put them into a slide show with a few maps, some text and some music onto an auto start CD-ROM.

Big hit! Everyone loved it, and not just my family members either. Friends wanted to see it and said they were fascinated by the historical shots.

So my answer is, we can leave a legacy even if we don't consider it important. Other people will see it differently, so I'm not going to stop.

pretty much everyone i ever met knows i am a great photographer
i guess that's a legacy

I'm not turning 50 in a while. Quite a while actually. But that hasn't stopped me from thinking about this very theme. But then I found my answer: When recently friends visited me and looked at some of my photographs hanging on the wall the look on their faces said it all. The pictures showed cubanos in Havanna. The faces showed curiosity. If one of my photographs awakens someone's interest in something, or even only makes soneone smile, then that's their (and my photography's) "greater purpose". And it vindicates all the others being tucked away in a box somewhere.

This article/ blog has struck at the core of the photographic dilemma I've always found myself in. So many times the urge to take pictures is extinguished by the thought, "What am I going to do with these pictures?" There is only so much empty space on my walls, and I already have drawers full of pictures, and I don't know what to do with them, either.

I love photography as much as the next guy, but to merely take pictures for the enjoyment of the process is unfulfilling. It's sort of like writing a song that nobody hears.

Photography is communication, and the process should just be a means to that end. I just don't possess the mentality of a businessman to be able to market my pictures, or to accept photography as a commodity to be sold.

Photography can be art, but there doesn't seem to be a realistic place in photography for the artist to flourish, and stay motivated.

.............the time givers return,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

If you're thinking about people looking at your photos after you're dead, you might want to think about your current experiences regarding the photos of those who are now dead. Why do you or others want to look at their photos? What could they have done to make it practical and pleasant for you to achieve what you set out for when you decided that you wanted to look at their photos?

I love the website of your featured commenter, lovely images which are now priceless from an historical perspective.

Well, this discussion is certainly a timely one for me. I'm 55 and a heart attack survivor. Talk about stacks of prescriptions! And a device in my chest to boot. Anyway, I read Mike’s piece in B&W Photography too. For the same reasons voiced here, it caused me to think about my legacy and why I am pursuing photography. I also thought about my Dad on Father’s Day. He was a professional photographer and after he passed away we tossed thousands of his images. So what was the point of all of that work anyway, other than to provide us a living,? I started a digital imaging blog (http://christopherwlane.blogspot.com/) earlier this year and in my current funk I closed it down for the Summer. I now see that I am not the only one with this affliction. I am gratified to read all of the comments and it has cheered me up to know that I am not alone. Misery loves company ‘eh. I am grateful for the ideas and will be offering some of my own in my own space. Finally, this is not a bad thing. Only truly serious and thoughtful people question the value of what they do. Just thinking about your legacy is the first step to ensuring that you leave a meaningful one behind. And I, for one, think that is important.

Photography took a terrible dive with the advent video for a while until digital cameras arrived on the scene so I suspect there will be a ten year hiatus when the billions/day of snapshots might have been down to say, 500 million. On a personal note, as a sculptor and digital paint artist who uses photo as a starting point, I can say for myself that the work itself is more the ash from the fire. It is in the doing that matters most and what remains, well, time will tell as to what happens with it. I speak from experieince with respect to my volumes of 3D art. Some has survived and some has not. It is not always quality that does the surviving. Sometimes it is just plain luck. Life and art are random acts. Make a life that feels worthy by raising your personal achievements in the now and worry less about your legacy which must take care of itself. Good deeds in other words and you will live for a long time after you are gone. Make great art and maybe some of the better stuff will survive..or maybe not. Cest la Vie!

"The doing matters most" (from N. Fiertel's comment) might as well be "Only the doing matters." As far as I'm concerned, when I die the world ends. Is there life after death? (Other people's, I mean.) Don't know and don't care. Making photos gets me out and about and gives life the illusion of purpose. One foot follows the other. If anybody applauds, that's gravy.

I recently found a box of negatives my father shot during high school in the mid-1950s. He died in 1994 at the age of 56, and I never had a chance to discuss these images with him. As a surviving descendant, what I wish I knew is WHY did he take the pictures he did? What about that image spoke to him?

He had very little money, and would buy his black and white film in bulk and wind it into reusable cartridges (he did tell me that part). So I know that he wouldn't have used a single frame unless it mattered to him.

I've scanned in all the negs, and my mom and some of their high school friends can tell me who people are in some of the pictures, but not all. And there are places that no one can identify.

I'm happy to have the negatives, don't get me wrong, but it really drives home how much is lost when someone dies.

IMHO the sole purpose for taking photos is so that they can come back to haunt me with their ineptitude and mediocrity. Every time I think I've done something right I see another photo that shows how I should have done it. The only fun I have is shooting and postprocessing, the rest is misery. Like in any addiction, the low is as important as the high, the only way to beat disappointment that finished work brings is to go and shoot some more.

I think I will enjoy my photographs while I can (read: while I am alive). Probably my kids will, since most of my pictures are full of them. Probably not.

Beyond that I don't want to speculate or think that my photos will have values.

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