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Monday, 07 January 2013


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I don't find this a difficult one - I think if you try and analyse why you do it, then it means you don't already know, or you doubt it's value. In both cases you might as well stop

I was driving that bulldozer. Just a little prank I decided to pull on Mayor Daley early one Sunday morning. Would you mind sending me a wallet size of that, Ken?

These are thought provoking questions, Ken.

Not long ago I recall reading, somewhere, that some photographers do what they do in order to make sense of the world. This neatly sums up the situation in my case, and it may also play a role for folks shooting subjects beyond the usual categories.

A nice essay, Ken. A couple points strike home for me. I've been struggling, for lack of a better word, over the last ten years, to accept the fact that I no longer have time to practice photography seriously - at least not the type of photography I'd like to practice. I have a full time job with an hour long commute each way and a busy family life. Before my daughter was born, I enjoyed nature photography; since then, I've become more of a people photographer, and had a little fun toying with beginners street photography and travel scenes. And I strive to get better and better at shooting my daughters sporting events, dance recitals, school plays and concerts and so on. (For that reason, my 70-200/2.8 is one of my most used lenses and the main reason I won't be abandoning my DSLR in the foreseeable future).
I know that fully embracing this philosophy will be a good thing. I can simplify my gear; buy that Sony RX100 that will allow me to leave the DSLR at home without investing in a second ILC system. And I can stop fretting over the photography I wish I were doing, but know I don't have the time to do well at this point in my life.
I have also been slowly building up a small photo book library and appreciating the photography of others.
So while I'm not one for resolutions, maybe your post will be the kick in the pants I need in order to accept my new photographic reality, and to sell off all that extraneous gear.

I shoot street photographs to capture fleeting moments of life. It's kind of like a treasure hunt. When you have your camera up and ready to fire, it's amazing how many moments cross your path.

http://kennethwajda.com/coloradofaces/gallery/content/L1072661_large.html is an example. Walking through a rainy NYC in December. Poor kid's missing everything.

Or life's oddities. http://kennethwajda.com/coloradofaces/gallery/content/L1068492-Edit_large.html

Fun stuff. It's an exploration of my world. It's my favorite way to explore a new destination.

They bulldozed a park? For what - a parking lot?

I photography for reasons that have evolved over the years: first, to document; later, to improve skill; recently, to portray; my goal, to illuminate.

Growing up as a military brat/camp follower I had richly diverse visual experiences as a sub-adult. Unfortunately not a single person in my immediate family used a camera to record our experiences.

I have a strongly visual memory. The vivid detail I can recall with the help of photographs as an aid is a powerful incentive to record my world. My childhood experiences are essentially locked away and undocumented. The world has changed so much since I was a child and those memories are precious.

This also translates into a strong incentive to document other vanishing worlds. Particularly the history and people of the Western US. For instance I used to know someone who was involved in New Mexico territorial politics. All I have are memories of her now - no images or story to pass along. My personal journey is a powerful influence on my choice of subjects.

Why do I photograph? Because it is there....

• God Proxy. To make the world look the way I feel it should.
• Imitation/Inspiration. Trying to replicate the quality and types of imagery created by photographers i admire.
• It's rarely about 'preserving memories.' It usually has to have a transformative effect — i want to make something look grand/iconic/beautiful....

The question is a good one, for sure. But are we now in for a long list of OP-ers all eager to tell us 'why I photograph'? I pray not. I propose two linked supplementary questions one cannot ask oneself often enough: "Why did I take THIS photograph? What on earth was I thinking about?"

I am struggling with this exact question and have been for some time now. I certainly have the time and much more equipment than I care to list but even so I often ask what do I accomplish with my photographs? I recently exhibited many of my B&W prints at a small gallery with an opening night celebration and also sold a few prints during the month long showing. But to be honest with myself most of my work gets printed and then they go to storage in my archival black box, (presentaion cases) and this is where I struggle, what is the benefit besides friends, relatives and yes most people that see my work seem to like it, but that is where it ends. So I have taken a hiatis from shooting any "fine art" images and random snaps never really motivated me, perhaps the digital era has some effect on my desire to shoot and print? Perhaps the ease of digital has produced a glut of some very fine work by the masses of photographers, I also fall into the trap of new cameras and the vast improvements in sensors and reduced camera size that equipment is more important than the process of photographing. I also think that today even more so than in the past most photography, (prints) are a tuff sell. The question still remains for me.....WHY do I photograph. Perhaps attempting fly fishing or a new artistic challenge is what I need?

Kirk Tuck has a similar meditation on his blog, that's worth reading..."Where are we going with this photography thing?"

And I gotta say, if you're really into introspection...some of the answers are brutal.

I have been a professional and keen amateur photographer since the early eighties. Two years ago for almost a year I used only one camera with a fixed lens for my personal photography...very liberating and a very good way to rejuvenate my vision. The fact that I didn't have to focus ( I used zone focus a lot) and used mostly automatic exposure contributed to this journey of renewal. It was the most liberating year in my photography life and left me with a much clearer vision. I can recommend it to anyone that is looking for some direction in their photography life...or just to recharge those photo batteries....

There are three moments of recurring pleasure that inspire me to photograph.

In the field, the artistic and technical puzzle that arises when I see a subject and I am prompted to answer the question "how do I photograph THAT?"

In post-processing when I first look at my images or my film, and find one or two nuggets that are better / different than I could possibly have hoped for.

And finally, sharing those few worthy images with friends and strangers, and finding what they love (or don't.) It's often different than my own opinion, which is fascinating.

The best of those images end up on a wall somewhere - and in an online gallery. When the response has been really good, those friends and family members will find themselves in receipt of a gift (print, mug, etc.)

Fairly uninteresting, but I photograph as a way to share what I think is beautiful in the world. Since nobody shares my particular obsessions and geography, it ends up being unique if not particularly original. I just put up my Top 9 from the last year on my Flickr (linked to my name).

Of course, this post made me consider selling the Olympus E-M5 (20/1.7, 45/1.8, 60/2.8, 9-18/4-5.6) for the lovely RX100, but even if it's more convenient, I ended up getting each of those lenses because they scratch a particular itch. At least I'm getting better at quelling such urges - used to be the RX100 would have been on order shortly after lunch. =P

We live in a beautiful world, and I am greedy; I want to re-experience the beauty I witness over and over. The subject is irrelevant - it's whatever catches my eye.

The equipment provides variety and prevents visual fatigue: what does this arresting-to-me item look like with this lens? This film? This sensor? Fill flash? What happens when I stretch time out? (Now I need a tripod and neutral-density filters.) And so forth.

There seems to be no larger goal than to satisfy an insatiable visual curiosity and appetite. But I suppose "documentary" is a good enough theme, since I also like to revisit (and reprint) photos I took in decades past that happen, unintentionally, to capture something or someone that is no more. Someone I met at the Ctein Toronto gathering described my pictures as "mementos". That term seems to capture the idea well - a pithy point of entry into a larger memory.

It is also, however, more than a bit solipsistic; a stranger off the street wouldn't "get" a lot of my photos because their frame of reference is a bit too personal. So my goal for 2013 is to mix with other photographers more, and get outside my box, even for a short while. And spend more time and money on the presentation side of photography and less on hardware.

Not trying to be cute: because I must.

Irritated subject to impressionable young man: "Why don't you take a picture? It will last longer."

Impressionable young man: "Thanks. That's a good idea."

Reality is an illusion. The world as we know it is ephemeral. Photographs are my way to be engaged in the Now; to capture the illusion and the moment so that others might look at them and know what it's like to See Things the Way I See Them (and as they may never exist again.)

Excellent thoughtful piece, Kenneth. As I get older I reflect on this subject more often. As for me, I photograph for my walls. That is, I make prints, mat and frame them and hang them on my walls. When I get tired of a print or have a new image I want to see, I swap the print out of the frame and hang something new. I have a short list of subjects that I photograph most often and strive to make images containing a strong graphical element. Printed images that reveal something new every time you look at them are just captivating.

Apart from the images themselves, the act of photographing has been my way of relating to the world for 50 years now. Perhaps it gives me some perceived measure of control over the uncontrollable, a sense of peace in a world of turmoil. Whatever it is, I don't think I could live without making images, even the ones that don't end up on my walls. Maybe some day, but not just yet.

Ken, thanks for the post. Interesting set of questions; they nicely cover most, if not all, of my concerns. It would be cool if readers' responses to those questions could be 1) encouraged, 2) collated, and 3) presented here sometime in the near future. Might make for some interesting follow-on posts?

Why do we sing while taking a shower? Why do we scribble on a piece of paper during a boring staff meeting? Why do we feel compelled to touch a key or two every time we walk past a piano? Why do we photograph?

I think that the reason is quite straightforward: Homo sapiens is a creative species. Creating something, even insignificant, even inadvertently provides the right lobe of our brains a much needed stimulation. It gives us a sense of balance. Sanity, if you like.

Fundamentally, we photograph for ourselves. It's merely a reflex, almost like breathing or blinking. But a photograph is more than just a representation of reality made of colour and tone; it's historically meaningful. It quickly becomes part of our very memory. So unlike shower arias we take the trouble to collect our photographs (hopefully only a few hundreds a year) and show them to the people we love. And some of those precious pieces of history may become memories for our beloved too. In fact this is the peak of my photographic aspirations.

I often think about it. I think I know the answer. It's the way I can express myself aesthetically.

This is not an original thought but it is appropriate: I make photographs because I like to see how things look in a photograph.

I began my "artistic career" as a painter, but eventually picked-up a camera. When I found out I could actually make a living shooting photographs, instead of paintings...I never looked back.

I came to photography through a lifelong obsession with the cinema. This led me to shoot in the streets (of Tokyo, SE Asia, etc.) looking for freeze frames from ongoing movies starring "everyday heroes". Put another way: I guess I'm a frustrated movie director. Ironically even with the video capabilities in today's cams, I am not seriously tempted to shoot moving pictures...

Hmmm. Why? Firstly, i do not do this to obsession. By the shutter counter, i shoot about 3k/yr, or 250/mnth. I shoot the things that are important in my life and heart. In my case that would be Virginia's countryside, historical sites, and various other interests (well, okay, motorcycle racing). Then there is my family . . . and my mistress . . . ahem.

I keep the prints in albums and cover the walls of my windowless Pentagon office, in addition to sharing with friends (often with enlargements, photobooks, canvas prints, or, lately, puzzles).

Relative to many hobbiests, my gear is modest: one dSLR, two lenses, and flash; i also have a two lens m4/3 system and a (new) G1x. All shooting is raw, processed with DXO and printed at Costco. I am happy upgrading the dSLR body every five years or so (two generations).

I expect to go back through my prints in my dotage with enjoyment, and my family will after my passing. The prints are a source of constant comment from my Pentagon office visitors.

-- gearbox

PS I suppose that when the family comes to the mistress shots . . . it will be a bit like Madison County . . .

I've spent the last month pondering the same thing. I love photography but on reflection I am often guilty of 'just' trying to make aestheticly pleasing images. This year I am going to narrow in on why I'm drawn to particular subjects and try to express what I find meaningful about them through my photography, then see if anyone wants to exhibit what I come up with.

I photograph because I can't not.

I have stopped photographing three times over the last 40 years--each time because I thought I had found something to fill the "photo hole" in my life. In the last decade of the last century, I thought I was clean, but I got curious about digital and bought a cheap digicam, the first step on a learning and upgrade path that will not quit. My quest to get images I really like using a digital camera also led me back to film -- 35mm, medium format, large format, in that order.

Today I am an ambidextrous imager with five camera of various vintages and varieties (including a digital SLR), and I try to take one of them for a walk every day. Why do I photograph? I'm not sure I want to know. The question is the journey.

You Guys make me feel bad, I do photography because I enjoy it, ever since I was about 12 and a friend of my father (Elmer Lapp) somehow managed to find a Kodak 35 mm camera that he thought I should have, guess he got tired of me drooling on his Lecia. It makes me happy.

Sunset-golden sodium vapor lamps set foggy bridges on fire. Cement grows beneath mercury vapor lamps. Light pollution stains the sky like tobacco spit. Doorways and windows float on a sea of darkness. Tree limbs shatter like glass. Leaves burn like candles. Forests of moss break the sidewalks apart. Slime molds fruit in the earth, fireflies blossom in the sky, and caterpillars bud at the end of every twig. Crows swim through the salty air, centipedes tapdance over the pavement, and possums sashay across the road. People are just shadows on glass or streaks of light on pavement.

There is darkness.

There is light.

I live in my own little world and photography is the only way I can share that: I can't draw, can't paint, make very bad sculptures, and write very slowly (and poorly). But I do know how to press the shutter release.

i'm with Roger (from the featured comments).


Because I don't want to do anything else. That's why I photograph.

I photograph because "Die Welt ist schön."

(German for "The World is beautiful," and also the title of a famous photographic book by Albert Renger-Patzsch.)


Oh dear. Well first things first.

@ Roger Overall: Not to worry, Roger. Yes, those images show a horribly disfigured scene but it's for a good cause. You're seeing a tiny corner of the early stage of a large park renovation project that will, in about two years, produce a better and more usable park (not a parking lot!).

There are some terrific and truly thoughtful responses and comments here. Of course there are no "right" or even "good/better/best" answers. The question is merely an invitation for you to visit a dial-tone level topic.

As an interesting observation, the young people (teens through 20's) I've asked tend to answer in more social terms. The value and compulsion of photography for them lies almost exclusively in its social currency. Where they've been (or where they ARE), who they've seen, what they've done, sharing how something looks. Photography has a highly transitory value in their world. Perhaps it will change with age. Perhaps not.

For me photography is an immeasurably enjoyable contemplative and expressive medium, not to mention a fascinating field of study. The challenge of finding (or creating) and capturing a "good" image is irresistible. I'm with Andrea B. who wrote, "I photograph because I can't not.".

I'm building a low-res, indoor/outdoor time machine. A sort of ladder to the future that I and anyone else who cares to can use to climb back down and see what a tiny sample of the past looked like.

I was all set to comment, and then I read the thread and Mike already said it. "All I know is the world looks beautiful".

let me be indulge in a bit of hyperbole here:

Why do you paint(photograph)?
For exactly the same reason I breathe.
That’s not an answer.
There isn’t any answer.
How long hasn’t there been any answer?
As long as I can remember.
And how long have you written(photographed)?
As long as I can remember.
I mean poetry(photography).
So do I.
"E.E Cummings, Forward to an Exhibit: II" (1945) With a few parenthetical (graffiti) marks by me.

the full interview/poem here: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/cummings/commentary.htm

I used to love taking pictures when we were in high school. I remember going to the WWII cemeteries carrying the Canon AE-1 with my school friends to take pictures. My dad used to take pictures of us growing up using a Yashica Mat.

I would buy disposable cameras whenever we travelled but never bought a regular camera even though I had this desire to buy one. I got serious into photography after we had our first baby to capture all those beautiful moments. After two boys, I have more gear than I could handle. My first boy started playing soccer in little league so enjoying taking pictures of his soccer matches besides other things.

Life is beautiful so I try to capture those moments.

I blame my father. When I was a kid in the 1950s, my parents would go off to warm, colourful places such as Italy, and take lots of slides. My brothers and I didn't get further than Cornwall at that time. Years later, in the SLR days, I would borrow his Nikkormat. After any of us went travelling there would always be a slide show.

I also have the travel bug, and I think subconsciously my itch to take pictures is the desire to capture, and keep, the glamorous world of 'abroad', which seemed a distant dream when I was ten, and still lures me on at the age of 65!

The photos themselves don't always live up to expectations (understatement), but I don't think that matters. I enjoy the technical challenges of framing the shot, as well as the 'engineered' qualities of older prime lenses. And learning the intricacies of post-processing has been thoroughly satisfying.

I am an amateur photographer, and as such my photography is concerned with recording people, events, places that mean something to me, and to family and friends who like to have copies of my photographs. I call myself a photographer (rather than a snapper) because I have taken the trouble to learn the skills of the craft, and to apply them with a view to making my pictures have a lasting quality. I want my prints, and the pictures in my photobooks, cards and calendars to be as good as the best that one sees in the shops and on the web. I have learned the skills of editing and curating so that my books and exhibitions can stand alongside those from professionals. My photographic products are not for sale; they are to delight family and friends, and to provide a "thank you" to tradesmen and others who provide service. I get pleasure in giving pleasure through pictures, and I strive to make them interesting and well made, and relevant for the recipient. I love to receive feedback that shows that a well-chosen picture is appreciated; to hear the comment about a landscape of the recipient's homeland that the picture "shows it better than they see it".
That is why I photography is my hobby. Goff

I photograph out of love for the world visual. I want to show to others what I see, or how the world presents itself to me. I am immensly pleased and motivated when my 'message' gets across. This in turn leads me to keep looking (or being attentive) in ways that are fresh or new to me. I have considered painting at various points in my life, but I love the all-inclusiveness of the photographic image too much - and also its proof-like quality, however subjective, of this part of the world looking this way at this moment in time.

For me it's documenting things -- for me, for others, for the future. I've had this urge since, oh, when I was in second grade at the very least (I've got negatives going back to then). I try to organize and label my work well enough to make it useful to others (with rather mixed success).

One reason I continue to pursue photography is that it helps me to really look; it provides a reason to stand and stare.

Both the shots are nice but my favorite is 1st one. It is tremendous.

I photograph because I can't imagine not photographing.

Many reasons. Had an epiphany some years ago after visiting the old neighborhood. Everything seemed to have changed so much since I had left. But then I looked at family-album pics of the same area in the even more distant past and saw that in reality little had changed.

Memory is important. Mine is better than most but no one's is very good over long periods. Memories drift and change in response to newer events. Once a memory changes it's difficult to retrieve the original version, and even the original was probably inaccurate. Making images is one of the better ways to keep memories from drifting too much, and to retain memories that one might otherwise lose.

Just pondering how to answer this when the perfect quotation sprang to mind: in the Bill Cunningham documentary, he is shooting a charity reception somewhere, one of two he will do that night, commuting on his bicycle, at age 80 or so. Someone is chasing him with a plate of food saying "please, eat something.." - he lowers the camera long enough to smile and tell her "No, no thanks... I eat with my eyes..." Isn't that about it?

When I walk without a camera I take the quickest route and retreat into a bubble, occasionally glancing at the view along the Thames, or the traffic when crossing the street. But mostly I just walk and think my own thoughts.

But if I have a camera with me, I look at everything around me. I take detours on a whim, or just pick a spot and watch for a while, or chat to people I meet.

My surroundings fragment into an infinite set of fractal cameos: The Kodachrome splash of graffiti on a concrete wall, a 16th century pub squashed between concrete offices, two women chatting animatedly in the coffee shop window, the textures of a rusting barge on the mud at low tide, or the sunlit reflection of the skyline in a puddle after the rain.

They don't all make great photos, but the act of searching makes the world an infinitely more fascinating place, and one I feel far more connected to.

It's my creative outlet and must say I'm not half bad. (sometimes) I mess with the guitar and I'm horrible, Tried oil painting and bombed, can't dance, can't sing all that well so photography beckoned and for me was the one.

@James Sinks. Thank you!

Photography is an incredible excuse for buying yet more equipment.

I can't recall which photographer said it (one of the large format guys from the 90's? an American?) but, "Photography for me is an excuse to be in the world," sums it up for me. Engagement, active connection, pursuit of understanding the world through aesthetic exercise. Being out and about with a camera always makes me feel more complete.

Very meaningful words, I could subscribe each of them. But even more meaningful are the two photographs. I have exactly the same example as taken from my parents' home, before and after development, and am sure that there are plenty of more examples out there. I wonder if Mike might like to cast a Readers' "before and after" Pictures' post.

I just like making things. It could be a photo, and usually is, but I've made a shed, customised a motorcycle, built a post box, built nest boxes, built an alarm system, made a flash diffuser/reflector and many other things.

I spend a lot of time sketching designs on graph paper; this is where my ideas came from in my comment to the You Just Gotta Love Pentax post, above. I far prefer this sort of brain exercise to doing crosswords or sudoku.

But I photograph because I must. Sometimes when I'm weary and limping and don't want to move I realise there's a photo I can take and I struggle to my feet, no matter how it hurts. On Christmas Eve I was photographing the lights in the High Street and a couple of amiable drunks asked me why I was taking pictures. "For my own entertainment" I replied.

Sometimes, at big noisy parties I will take the camera and a big flashgun. I have Asperger's Syndrome and I'm not good at big noisy parties; being "The Photographer" means that I am in what is to me a structured situation and I'm much more comfortable. That doesn't mean that I do not strive to take the very best photos I can. The flash diffuser/reflector I made (above) was to improve the lighting quality at these parties.

Er, Mike, I've gone all italic for some reason...

More than 50 years ago I started taking photos and was thrilled by the images I could create. Today, I am still thrilled by the old ones as well as the new ones I create today.
Maslow would understand.

I'm sure that, for each of us, the 'Why?' of it changes with time.

My time-line, underlined by a stream of enjoyment, goes - curiosity, fascination, hunger to learn and improve, earn a shekel, capturing the image and, recently, for my descendants.

Of these the last is surely the most relevant? I regret it wasn't in there right at the outset. I'm ashamed to say I was guilty of a certain photographic arrogance that blinded me to taking what I thought of as 'family snaps'. Luckily, sifting through my parents' family photo archive opened my eyes. I recommend it.


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