Why Photography?

Discussion in 'Philosophy of Photography' started by stillshunter, Sep 3, 2011.

  1. stillshunter

    stillshunter Super Moderator Emeritus

    Nov 5, 2010
    Down Under
    OK I blame this on Nic's (aka Lucky Penguin) recent camera rationalisation policy. Since he spoke about essentials it really got me thinking about the fundamentals of my photography. Before I can answer why I need the gear I do, I need to understand the impetus behind my photography?

    I deliberately did not entitle this thread "Why do you photograph?", as I have met folks, on other forums, who are overtly into the form (the kit itself) rather than the function (what you can do with it) of the medium....not that there's anything wrong with that! C'mon a lot of gear is art in, and of, itself and deserving of collection. But to me, well I sincerely hope so anyway, there's more to this photographic malarkey that the acquisition of equipment. I'd hope it's about the images. But what images and why? So while I journey through this personal Dark Night of the Soul, I'd love to hear the perspective of others...if you care to share.
    NB: I know this was touched on in another thread started by Kevin (summerkl) a year or so ago, but we have so many more subscribers now...

    To get the ball rolling:
    What frustrates me the most about photographic fugue states, such as mentioned by Paul (aka pdh), is that photography to me is a personal journey. One side of the coin is the objective documentary - capturing the world as I see it. Simultaneously and intrinsically, it's also a purely subjective exercise - where's/what's the me in what I see - revealed in the act of conveying (and hopefully communicating) my interpretation of meaning or the aesthetic. So, ideally, photography is my mode of expression - I think it was HCB who said the photograph is my shouting how I feel. Handy because I'm a hopeless drawer, painter, sculptor, cook and cleaner. So I'd like to think that, to me, photography is about observing and capturing things happening outside myself to glimpse and better understand what is happening inside.

    If I'm being honest with myself, it's then rather troubling when things go dry, as I have to wonder what's going on internally. Also, how does this relate to GAS?

    Well this is a personal and immediate stocktake (hence, the caveat emptor that I might change my mind as we go along :wink:), and one that I'd be curious to cast and develop through the experience of others.

    • Like Like x 4
  2. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    I don't think it is possible to completely separate the gear from the act of taking a photograph. Obsession with gear can distract, but finding the right gear can inspire. A camera that frustrates you or doesn't inspire confidence will most probably not end up taking many photographs. I think the important thing is not to let external influences lead you to question your equipment and diminish your enjoyment of it. Keep an open mind to new technologies but remember that impressive specification charts aren't where great photos are made.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. For me, photography is about creativity. If I can't create, I go stale inside. If I go stale inside, there's nothing more enlivening than getting out (even indoors) and creating. Sometimes I have attacks of GAS but it doesn't help if one has frozen solid. This has been an expensive lesson for me. That said, I have just pulled the trigger on a DA55-300 because I realised I *do* want to keep my Pentax gear, and the X100 is good only for some kinds of shooting that I do. Yesterday's Sydney visit to a rather nice park in Wahroonga would have been better suited to the DSLR. The X100 was OK, but looking at the shots, I realised that I actually would have achieved more of what I wanted with the Pentax. Its all a learning thing.

    I get what you are saying about it being a means to express oneself. I don't think that had quite crystallised for me, but thanks to your post it has. (Long story now coming)

    I was as happy as a lark when I got my first Minolta film SLR. I used it exclusively with a 50mm f/1.4 lens and I used it a lot. I mostly shot people and also the odd wedding or gig. Quite suddenly I had the opportunity (and need, for lack of cash flow at the time) to work as a musician, which I did for three years. Interestingly, when I did that, my photography fell away to nothing. I vaguely missed it, but did not have the need to do anything about that. After that three years, I gradually became more discontented had absolutely no idea why. I was playing/singing at home, at parties etc, but still I was restless. This feeling of something missing went on for 20 (yes, TWENTY) years... when I bought my first digital camera (the Minolta had long since got a jammed shutter and I was quoted a veritable fortune to get it fixed) and started shooting again. The liberation I felt was incredible. The proverbial weight off shoulders. After that, I would always carry a camera wherever I went. As a community mental health nurse, I needed that more than ever, and being out on the road most days allowed some time to relieve oneself of the emotional baggage that comes with the job. I am no longer working... but I still need the release.

    Expressing oneself, most certainly. Being creative, yes. But also, keeping oneself grounded and "steady". That's what it is for me, and its probably why I have abandoned the photography club: their needs from photography simply did not match mine. I hope I haven't misinterpreted your message, Mark.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. thekeddi

    thekeddi Top Veteran

    Aug 15, 2011
    South Australia
    I photograph as a documentation of my life and that of my families I think?

    I am the only one in our family who constantly takes photos and have been doing so since young. If I didn't then there would be hardly any family photos for the future.

    But I also like it to see what I can capture too. I love animals, birds and bees and like to capture them as much as possible.

    My dad always had a camera and I inherited the bug from him :)

    And I agree, the right gear can and does inspire me to get out there and take photos. Esp the X100 now, it's like a new lease on my photography live.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Lili

    Lili Hall of Famer

    Oct 17, 2010
    Dallas, TX
    My obsession with Gear started when I went digital; I wanted a camera that fit me like my Hexar AF did (or the Rolleiflex 2.8 before that).
    My Ricoh GRD came closest.
    Like the Konica it became invisible in my hand.
    I have come to the realization that the camera matters little though, it is the act of creation, the act of seeing that matters most.
    • Like Like x 1
  6. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    Two reasons I can think of, which are somewhat related:
    - To have a record of times gone by. I love looking through photos from long ago and remembering those moments and how I felt about them, and reflecting on how things have changed, what the real value of a certain experience was, etcetera.
    - To make more tangible my sense of wonder about the world (and other emotions). A friend recently said to me: 'You really do live in your own world inside of you, don't you?', and I think she's spot on (not that I have delusions or significant trouble communicatingon a practical level with the rest of the world, it's just that there's also my inner way of experiencing the world which is probably quite different from most people's). This way of experiencing the world can be pretty hard to understand though (for myself and others), and I think photography can make it somewhat more tangible, giving me another tool to reflect on my own thoughts and emotions and motivations, and perhaps a way for my friends to have a better idea of my "inner world" as well. So far I haven't succeeded at this very well though, but I'm only just getting started.

    Also, I just like pretty (or strong) pictures, and like to make some myself, or at least try to :smile:
    • Like Like x 1
  7. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    hmmm ... just quickly to say, my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I started the thread you namecheck, stillshunter! ...

    It seems to me that one of the difficulties here is the deeply embedded but somehow unacknowledged sense that taking a photograph has something to do with capturing a reality that's "out there" ... so, where is it that bartjeej's friend thinks she lives that bartjeej doesn't, for instance? ... but I think I'll dismount that high horse before I get too comfy in the saddle ... except to say that I think the notion of "subject" and "object" is slippery ...

    Don (in a thread somewhere) said something to the effect that he wants a camera that gets as little in the way as possible (he'll correct me if I have that wrong) ... when I picked up an E-P2, I knew it was what I wanted, it was (is) an aesthetic object, so I haven't looked at any other cameras since except in a faintly disinterested way (I picked up an X100 to see what the fuss was about, and put it down again as quickly) ... I knew the E-P2 would take photographs, and I knew it would give me more options and a "better image quality" than the IXUS80 I was using ... because (here's the "why photography?" bit ) a bit like Nic, I can't draw or sing or play an instrument ... but I can take pictures that satisfy me and partly fulfil a need in me to be creative ...

    but I could do that with the IXUS ... the images I make with the E-P2 aren't stylistically much different to those I made with the IXUS ... except they can be sharper, bigger, I can get more reach and so on and so forth ... none of which really matters when they're on Flickr at 1024*768 ...

    some guitarists have dozens of instruments, some have one ... some painters use only the finest brushes, others use whatever they can pick up at a DIY store ... some people marry once, some people marry half a dozen times ... I like well-made things, and I have a box full of lenses that feel well-made, and sometimes I put a lens on just because I like the way it feels on the camera that day ... I don't have a particular desire to acquire more lenses, but I might replace one or two with that fill their niche more smoothly ...
    • Like Like x 2
  8. Streetshooter

    Streetshooter Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 12, 2010
    Philly, Pa
    Why Photography? Because I have to.

    Gear? I only use cameras that do not intrude on my vision.

    Nuff said.
    • Like Like x 2
  9. Grant

    Grant Veteran

    Nov 12, 2010
    Lunenburg Nova Scotia
    Why Photograph?

    Photography for me is a cruel mistress who has to be obeyed. I have no choice I see things and I have to photograph them. The process of photography is what I enjoy but once I have made an image I don’t care for it any more, I display them as an exercise in discipline but I seldom look at them again. The act of posting and displaying images almost seems arrogant to me as a sort of “look how good I am Mom” childish moment. Some people enjoy them and that makes me happy. I feel a rush of pride when someone takes the time to comments on my images. No matter how good my images turn out, no matter how well my images are accepted they never reach the goal I have set for myself.
    I have a gallery hanging coming up and I was so flattered to be asked I sign a contract and said yes. I wish I had said no! I guess I like to fail safe at times.


    Are just the tools of the trade. I have only the tools I need, no more no less. While I really appreciate a good camera I don’t idolize it as it is just a tool, a means to an end.
    • Like Like x 2
  10. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    pdh, regarding my friend and the world she lives in :)laugh1:), this "inner world" of mine is just an addition to the "outer world" we all share... ofcourse we all have our own inner worlds, my friend does too, but I think what she meant was that I tend to spend quite a lot of time sunk deep in my inner world, and it catches people off guard (including myself sometimes), or they simply don't understand me, when the inner world manifests itself in my visible behavior. I'm pretty sure she appreciates my oddities though :smile: and she has a fair few of them herself!

    You say:
    I think we mean the same thing, what I meant is that I use photography to make clearer my way of experiencing the world around me, which is ofcourse influenced by my inner world and is therefore impossible to quantify or objectify. So rather, capturing a state of mind inside of me, through my perception of the things outside, in order to express myself and hopefully also learn more about myself.

    Regarding gear, I carry my EX1 everywhere I go, and love it for its wide angle lens and rotating screen, allowing me to look at things from whichever perspective I find most interesting. Quick manual controls are priceless too. I can't see myself ever buying a camera without rotating screen again, unless someone ever made a water- and shockproof X100 with a wider angle lens... any GAS is easily resolved by a quick look at my bank account, I'm living on a student's budget!
    • Like Like x 2
  11. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Well put, bartjeej. I understand what you're saying regarding the inner and outer and the translation that a photograph can offer. And though not on a student's budget, per se, I can relate to the bank account part, too.:wink:
    • Like Like x 1
  12. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I do hope you don't think I was criticising your friend ... or you ... from my point of view, the whole idea that there's an "inner world" and and "outer world" is a sort of mistake ... but this is pretty abstruse stuff and I don't want to hijack stillshunter's intentions ...
    • Like Like x 1
  13. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    I don't think it's highjacking. Of course we each perceive our world differently because of what we bring to bear... For myself, when I have a photograph that means a lot to me there's part of me in it.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I think I was first REALLY drawn into photography by photos of everyday stuff I'd see that I'd never think twice about, but the photos of them showed a lot of beauty and perspective that I'd never have seen just with a typical glance. Just stuff like bridges, windows, the way a sliver of sunlight would fall on a tablecloth. Stuff I'd seen my whole life and never looked at twice, it made me look at twice, or three times, or a hundred. That was a huge gift to me at an age when it was hard to find beauty in much. I'd been taking pictures before that, mostly I think as a bonding exercise with my Dad and my brother, but I'd never really FELT it before that. Then I started looking a little deeper and I remember the AHA moment I had when I first saw Edward Weston's iconic image of a bell pepper. That someone could find just the right angles and light and tonality in a friggin' BELL PEPPER to make it look so incredibly human, so incredibly sensuous even, was an absolute revelation to me. And it made me look at the world differently, always trying to find the beauty, the image in nearly everything I saw. How can I look at this everyday object and find an interesting and possibly even beautiful image in it?

    That was really the driving factor initially. After several years of being VERY into it, life got in the way and it went back to just being a way to record life's moments (which is not a BAD thing, just a DIFFERENT thing) as I pursued a career and raised a family and the stuff that people do. And then it was all re-kindled about a year and almost a half ago in anticipation of a big trip, which led to the purchase of my first reasonably nice camera in many years, which led to my discovery of the depths of digital shooting and processing, which led back to the same old quest of trying to find beauty, or at least interest, where-ever I could. And oddly, that led me into street photography, which in one sense is an entirely different exercise, but in another is just extending that quest to the most beautiful and challenging part of our world, which is people. We humans aren't ALL that's going on by a long shot, but to a fellow human (an orangutan's perspective might be different!), we're the most interesting and beautiful part of the world I interact with every day (dogs rank pretty high too). People don't sit still much, either physically or visually or emotionally, which makes finding the beauty in everyday encounters with people and FREEZING them in the moment, so incredibly involving and interesting and difficult.

    That's about the only way I know how to explain it. I don't take it as far as Don - I don't think I have to - for many years I didn't and I can't say I missed it. But there's not a whole lot I enjoy more now that I'm back in it. I love the process of looking, of seeing, and any good results are just icing on the cake (although I admit that without icing I'd probably eventually tire of the cake!).

    And, oh yeah, gear is really really really fun also. Its a different thing, it won't help you see, it won't make you a better photographer, etc, etc, etc. But it can help you record what you DO see and I've just always loved cool gadgets and there aren't many cooler gadgets than modern cameras!

    • Like Like x 4
  15. stillshunter

    stillshunter Super Moderator Emeritus

    Nov 5, 2010
    Down Under
    Thanks you so much for the honest and open replies....that's what I love about this place - actually I'd not have been game enough to ask this question anywhere else.

    I hope I don't miss anyone out but I'd love to comment on some key aspects of replies so far.

    Couldn't agree with you more Nic. This was me and the DP2. Loved the outputs, but...well let me just say that it's nothing at all like using the X100.

    No you got it in one Sue. What an excellent story re: your hiatus and return to photography. I'd not thought about the grounding aspect before and I'll certainly have to mull it over a little further. Funny that you bought the exact same lens that was on my dSLR shopping list. But instead I think the whole kit'n'kaboodle is in its last days. Just haven't quite settled on the replacement...if any. Entertaining the thought of flying solo with the X100....or replacing the dSLR for a Leica M2 and a or some (yeah right!) lens/es. Honestly now that I have experienced the OVF with info I don't think I can go back to looking through a tunnel...I really do think the rangefinder interface suits my style of shooting.
    Spot on!!! With both the documentation aspect - it seems a very honest appraisal - and the X100 - which certainly does what it says on the box "Fall in love with photography again".

    Lili, I've heard that the X100 is the digital Hexar. :wink:...but still not interested? I love the statement the act of seeing matters most.... absolutely love it!!!

    Another for documentation, but I am very very curious about point two. What an amazing way of thinking and saying it. Thank you so much.....that's great!!! :thumbup:

    Mate this one was far harder to unpack. I hear you seconding the creativity aspect of photography, but I also really appreciate your talking about the camera as a tool, and one where it's aesthetic is so important. Again, this is what makes me so curious about a old Leica rangefinder. Not so I can sport a red dot - actually I don't think the M2 has one, but the feeling of in in and under hand....and the experience of the rangefinder. Thanks mate a lot to chew over there. Also I've not deliberately avoided the subject/object slippery slope, I just think this requires a thread unto itself. It'd be an excellent concept to explore in greater depth though....keen if you are!

    Or else?


    Now that's honesty! Thanks Grant. I love the distinction between the capture and the output. The childish moment...well it seems we all play that hand as it's all about how I see the world and my creativity and expression. Thank you so much.
    Well clarified! But is this another vote for Grant's take of the selfishness of the photographic exercise? :confused:

    Mate, please don't give it a second thought. As I've confessed to BB on many an occassion, more than half of my posts appear to be an act of highway robbery :blush:

    Sorry Ray, but as hard as I tried I could not cut a single word! Thanks so much for weighing in. On your first point, about looking deeper at the seemingly mundane this was only a recent realisation for me...and hence my new signature block. I am also getting more into street for the very reasons you mentioned....however I need to hone my skills and build my courage somewhat to come even to close to a decent image.

  16. BillN

    BillN Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 25, 2010
    S W France
    at a slight tangent

    M2 and film - now consigned to my display cabinet

    we are all now dominated by the computer and the immediacy, flexibility and utter convenience of digital, (and now quality!!)

    home scanning sucks in every way - time, quality, inconvenience, end results
    would I go anywhere near film - no unless I had a "free" processing/scanning shop next door that produced very high quality scans on an hourly turn around - and then I would think twice and only use film some of the time

    we may talk about (wanting) simplicity "at the front end" but pp and the computer is getting more sophisticated

    don't excluded the computer (creativity) and apps from gear - and the draw, for some people, of photography and bringing more people into "the pastime" and the onward development thereof
    • Like Like x 1
  17. pictor

    pictor All-Pro

    Jul 14, 2010
    Art has never been about convenience.
  18. Archiver

    Archiver Top Veteran

    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    My Dad was into photography years ago and I used to play with his cameras, but it wasn't until I got a Canon S45 in 2002 that I got going. At first, photography was a way of capturing the world around me, in ways that I wish I had done as a child and teenager, but it grew into a documentation of my life. I discovered a tremendous thrill at being able to capture something the way it was, and be able to recall it at will, as it were. An arrangement of books in a secondhand bookshop; the little cafe that you thought would always be there, but disappeared one day in a storm of financial turmoil.

    With my next camera, the Canon S70, it changed from strict documentation to include artistic expression. I found I really loved being able to find pleasing compositions. This continued through another few compacts until I got my first DSLR, the Canon 30D, which changed my way of shooting forever. The large sensor and related qualities were magical revelations. At this time I delved much more deeply into the technical aspects of photography, moving from just pointing and shooting to really considering aperture, shutter speed, focal length, compositional rules etc. I got into film and started using Dad's old cameras, too.

    Around this time, the company I work for began a photographic project, and I was put in charge of it. From then on I was making money by doing what I loved. I was sent to Sydney for two weeks to photograph as many buildings, landscapes and tourist attractions as possible, and I swore that the only thing that would make my job better was heavy metal playing in the background and girls dancing on podiums nearby. Really, it was one of the best things I have ever, ever done.

    Almost ten years on and I'm still steaming along. In my bag is the Leica M9 and Ricoh GXR. In my pocket, just in case, is the Ricoh GRD III. I have a backpack full of full frame Canon goodness. And I still have the compacts that have meant the most to me along the way. The company has expanded its range to include HD video production, and I've rediscovered another love: storytelling. I used to write a lot, many years ago, but study and work didn't leave me a lot of time to do that. Now I can exercise creativity in another area, visual instead of verbal.

    Does the gear have anything to do with it? Of course! I am a gearhead! But I am also utterly passionate about what I do, and having scads of gear means I can choose the right gear for almost any situation. I'm not slack in any way. I keep pushing myself, reading books, studying tutorials, and experimenting all the time. I've even considered dropping work for a few years and going back to school to get a 'proper' photographic education, but how would I live in the meantime? But whichever way I go, I know I'll have a camera in my hand and a smile on my face.
    • Like Like x 1
  19. pdh

    pdh Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    oh no ... he used the "a-word"
  20. BillN

    BillN Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 25, 2010
    S W France

    as the actress said to the Bishop
    • Like Like x 1