There is hardly anyone today that doesn’t take photos. Modern cell phones, if nothing else, has opened up for almost the whole world to be able to capture important moments in each and everyone’s lives. Even when I travel to developing countries I see an abundance of cell phones and I see people of all social strata taking pictures. Of course there are still many, many people that cannot afford a cell phone let alone a camera, but never before has so many pictures been taken every moment of a day as today. As I wrote in my post Too Much of Nothing, we snap as many pictures today, every two minutes, as were taken in the entire 19th century, another boom time for photography.
I would think most people take photos as a means for storing memories. For them it’s just fun to have pictures from the last family gathering or the latest holiday to Paris. They do not intend much else with their photography. They hardly call themselves photographers or think of what they do as photography. For anyone a little more serious about their photography, their motivation for photographing is most likely somewhat more developed. Maybe they don’t see themselves as artists, but they definitely regard photography as something more than a commodity for gathering memories. Most likely photography is something they like doing for its own gratification. And most likely they invest time and money into what they regard, if nothing else, as a hobby. I also believe that most of these photographers, at whatever level they regard themselves to be, have some kind of thoughts about wanting their images to be able to say something to others one way or another – beyond sharing memories.
We all have different reasons for why we take photos. But all too often I find that we are not really aware of the why. And why should we? Isn’t it good enough to want to enjoy taking photographs, whether we are amateurs or professionals? Why do we have to philosophize in pieces the joy of photographing?
Of course I don’t mean that. But if we want to be able to touch others with our images or say something more profoundly beyond simple, nice graphics, we need to understand why we photograph. If we know, we will also better be able to find subjects and find ways to convey what is important with the images we take. I have many times written and talked about the necessity of having a vision or intent behind our imagery. But if you don’t understand why you take photos in the first place, how can you then be able to make or take images that will mean something to anyone else, whether it’s touching them emotionally or whether the content is moving them or whatever else may have an impact on them?
I photograph because I love to get in touch with people who live a life differently than I do. I photograph because I am curios and use photography to understand and learn about others’ lives. And I photograph because I find stories of people from all around that I think it’s important to share and let others know about, whether it’s about people struggling to survive or whether it’s persons who can be a model and an inspiration for the rest of us. I photograph wanting to have an impact with my images, although I know in the grander scale of things, nothing much will change. This philosophy if you will, of mine determines what I photograph and how I photograph it. It’s the foundation my photography is built on. In addition I do photograph because I love the photographic process itself – that goes almost without saying – but it wouldn’t have been enough in itself to be able to create engaging images. By asking why we photograph, we learn more about ourselves, and we can bring more of ourselves into the shooting process. I dare say that my life is reflected in my photography – and my photography is reflected in my life. It’s sometimes really hard to separate the two.
Have you asked yourself the question? Why do I photograph?