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Old 18th January 2022, 09:01 AM
snusmumriken snusmumriken is offline
Join Date: Oct 2021
Location: UK
Posts: 112
Default Why do we take photographs?

Forgive me, but I’m suffering a wobble and questioning the point of it all.

Many years ago, by some freak, I emerged out of an art-loving family as a scientifically-minded teenager. When I became aware that photography could be art, that it involved chemistry, and that it could be practised on a small budget, it immediately seemed made for me. Memorable exhibitions in London of photographs by HCB and Irving Penn showed me how profound and how aesthetic it could be. By reading Creative Camera I learned about Bill Brandt, Don McCullin, Tony Ray Jones and many more. Through books I added Josef Sudek, Eugene Atget, all the Picture Post photographers, and Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. (And many more in later years, of course.)

So all those people were an inspiration. But I knew they were just people, often with privileged opportunities because they did nothing but photography. I realised that I could either hang their photos on my walls like everyone else, or take my own. With care, my own prints could be high quality, and they would reflect my life experience rather than theirs. So I aimed to produce photographs relevant to me that I found satisfying to gaze at. I had my own conscious and unconscious criteria for selecting them for display, and in time it dawned on me that this made them a self-expression as valid as anyone’s. Visitors at home inevitably saw my photos. My daughter also persuaded me to show them to strangers through Instagram, although I really don’t have the mindset to maintain that. I don’t care what anyone says about my photos, but I care very much what I show.

But in practising photography at all, I am basically saying “I can do that too”. Anything I do is palely derivative from those greats who showed me the way. I am not an original, I am not pushing the boundaries of the medium, or inventing a new distinctive style, or even doing the same thing better. I have a minor ability, and a valid but very small voice reflecting a mediochre life with rather little spare time. I don't have an important message for the world. When I pop off, my children may want to keep my prints, but from experience of keeping family papers I know that they will be a burden and will eventually be lost through poor storage. Basically it is a ‘hobby’, a ‘pass-time’. That was the last thing I wanted.

Judging by contributions to this forum, I’m certain I won’t be the only one facing this crisis of purpose.

So come on, please cheer me up! Why do YOU take photos?
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Old 18th January 2022, 12:17 PM
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skellum skellum is offline
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Isle of Lewis
Posts: 1,324

Hi Jonathan.
If you ask hard questions you get hard answers. I'm 60. I went to dental school in 1979 and have worked ever since. The longest break I've ever had was 6 weeks. I'm the Director for my health board, and over the last four or five years work-load and responsibility has piled up along with some odd personal issues. For me, involvement in photography as a way of preserving a bit of personal space has always been better therapy than prescription meds or alcoholism (jury out on the latter).
As I said somewhere else on this forum I already know I will never be an artist of any repute. Once I'm gone my darkroom will be on ebay and my prints in a skip- except for the ones which have personal meaning to family. You have already spotted that very few people actually create a photographic legacy that matters. Just like you I was motivated by exactly the same people: the second photographic book I ever bought was McCullin's Hearts of Darkness. We might between us list 30 or 40 photographers who have changed the medium, or even changed public consciousness, but all lived for their art. None were 'dabblers'. And again, this is from hundreds of millions of people who have owned cameras and even considered themselves serious photographers.

Basically it is a ‘hobby’, a ‘pass-time’. That was the last thing I wanted.

Yes, that's actually where you and I both are.
My photography helps me, keeps me from feeling subsumed in my professional life, even gives some pleasure to family and friends, but I'm neither good enough nor committed enough to 'make a difference' through my photography. I'd do more good putting my energy (and money I spend on film) into The Samaritans, local food bank, or volunteering somewhere in the Third Sector. As it happens, I retired almost a year ago and had planned to do something of that nature: a contribution to my community whilst still having photography for my own well-being. Unfortunately nobody wants my job and I'm still in post on a care-taker contract. I manage to steal a couple of hours a week for photography which means I am a dabbler, not much more than a dilettante. Bearing in mind that as a 15 year old I knew I would be a photographer or film-maker it is, sometimes, a painful thought. I didn't turn out ot be who I imagined I was.

I’m certain I won’t be the only one facing this crisis of purpose.

No, you aren't. I've had periods when I lapsed from photography. I did other things to manage my need to have some creative outlet during those times, and at one point wrote three full length novels (luckily for the world unpublished) because I could fit that into the scraps of spare time I had.
In short, there is no real outside validation for our photography. It gives me pleasure and soothes what passes for my soul. If I needed to feel my work mattered more I would have to dig deeper and actually give more of myself in terms of time and personal inconvenience to hunt down material that needed to be exposed or recorded.
Before being too hard on your own motivation or ability, remember just how much of all human activity really serves no measurable purpose. Of all the art, sculpture and music ever produced how much changed humanity?

Don't sell the cameras just yet jonathan.
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Old 18th January 2022, 12:33 PM
Terry S Terry S is offline
Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Southend on Sea, Essex, England UK
Posts: 3,158

Originally Posted by snusmumriken View Post
Forgive me, but I’m suffering a wobble and questioning the point of it all.

Basically it is a ‘hobby’, a ‘pass-time’. That was the last thing I wanted.

Judging by contributions to this forum, I’m certain I won’t be the only one facing this crisis of purpose.

Why do YOU take photos?
Why anything, is a BIG question to answer easily.

But like you, I, and I am sure many others have taken breaks over the years and not just from photography. I too used to wonder why I took and printed pictures. Upon moving to London, I eventually found a local photographic society and this gave me a reason, with that being the many competitions on offer. Over the years I went from Preliminary (definitely not Beginners! ) Class to Advanced, winning many prizes, cups and certificates along the way. It wasn't just the showing and critiques that I enjoyed, it was the new friends that I made and it now gave me a reason to go out and produce work.

Moving again, I joined another club, but rarely enter competitions now, as I've come to find a lot of them, whatever level they are, to be rather formulaic and 99.9% digital, something that I rarely do now. For now, I prefer to take work that I like, rather than trying to follow rules, the rules of composition the judges like so much, and I was a judge for a period, although I tried not to be over influenced by yet another picture of something, that I had seen many times before. I looked for something different and exciting to my eyes. So, I now take and make prints that I enjoy, for various print and postcard exchanges. One of the bonuses is receiving someone else's work back, to look at and occasionally admire. This now gives me that reason I needed in photography and I enjoy the whole process and although I've yet to meet any of the other people that I've corresponded with over the years, I still consider them long distant friends.

And to end, you say that you didn't want it all to turn into a ' ‘hobby’, a ‘pass-time’. That was the last thing I wanted.' Can I ask why? There are much worse things in life and being unable to work, I cherish my hobbies and pass-times, with each taking up various times throughout the year.

I hope this gives you an idea of why I personally love doing what I do.

Terry S

Last edited by Terry S; 18th January 2022 at 12:38 PM.
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Old 18th January 2022, 01:56 PM
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MartyNL MartyNL is offline
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: based in The Netherlands
Posts: 3,024

It gives me a focus in every sense of the word.
And even though we may have more interests, I believe where our talents lie, gets our attention.
And IMHO, regarding talent, photography has a low barrier to entry compared to may of the arts. And just as in every endeavour, it's plain to see, that some people have greater talent than others.
Whether each individual finds reward in their work or finds their work meaningful, needs to be answered on a personal level.

“Reaching a creative state of mind thru positive action
is considered preferable to waiting for inspiration.”
- Minor White, 1950
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Old 18th January 2022, 02:21 PM
Michael Michael is offline
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Ballinderry Lower, Co. Antrim
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Quite so, Marty: I agree 100%.

I will be 79 in March. At school I was clever and was told the world would be my oyster. But school ought to supervise you and to help you learn how to work or study. Mine didn't: I share the blame for that, of course.

If I'm out nowadays (pandemic apart) with a camera, I'm immersed. It distracts me from almost anything. If processing, I'm equally immersed. Calls of "Come in and eat, you bugger" aren't always immediately responded to.

I suspect that those of us who are enthusiasts overestimate the importance of even the most prominent photographers in the general scheme of things. And our tastes differ: I'm for Kertész and Steichen and technicians like Atget and Sheeler along with all the relative unknowns (people like Cash and Tritschler) who figure in the anthologies.

I've given up hoping to realise my early (mythological) "promise" and am happier for it. Joining a club on retirement was ghastly: belonging to FADU is not.
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Old 18th January 2022, 02:59 PM
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CambsIan CambsIan is offline
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Location: Cambridgeshire
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What a timely question.

I have not taken a photo or printed anything out in I don't know how long, my last print was the last time I entered the print exchange

I just seem to have lost my way. Can't think of a reason why, but I seem to have fallen out of love with my photography.

I had been feeling increasingly more and more self conscious when wandering around with my camera, and had a few cameras break, maybe that's part of it, maybe it's not.

Now that I have taken early retirement (the old dodgy knees), and have the time required to spend on my photography I can only hope that the spark returns.

In the meantime I've other hobbies to occupy me.

Learn to live, live to learn
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Old 18th January 2022, 03:55 PM
Mike O'Pray Mike O'Pray is offline
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Daventry, Northants
Posts: 8,409

I really started the whole thing in about 2001/2 when I quite suddenly wanted to take b&w photos. Up until then I had just taken colour negs with a camera that my wife had given me for my 50th birthday. She had done this when the previous year I had bought on a whim and for the princely sum of 50p the Kodak book of photography and had said I enjoyed it

I had had films processed and printed at the likes of Jessops and then a local mini-lab. By then colour was more or less de rigueur for most snappers and I was no different. They were mostly about leisure snaps of excursions, annual holidays. I wanted to record where we had been and what we had done

I became aware of the possibility of being able to process my b&w, went on a night school course and then converted a spare bedroom and bought a load of darkroom equipment from someone who was starting a family and need to give up and needed the space
So a very prosaic picture in my case. No "light on the road to Damascus" or revelations at all

After about 17 years the desire to take and process negs and prints has waned a little but whether it will slowly wither on the vine to the point of not bothering is something I cannot say

So there's a potted history of mainly why b&w and why I have a darkroom.

So why do I bother? Well part of the taking is tied up with the processing but I have no goals. I had no epiphany and in short I take pictures to record things I want to see a print of within a short period but the whole soup to nuts of it has to be in my hands now I know how to do it

I fear that none of what I have said is of any value to you and may even be a hindrance for you as it is very simple and basic and as far away from photography as art or having a purpose as can be. It is a hobby and pastime and not an all consuming passion in my case.

I like conversing about photography and learning from others' experiences but it has never had a purpose for me other than the prosaic purpose of recording and making what I want to remember about events, places and people

I am never going to take El Capitan on a 8x10 on top of what used to be called a "shooting brake" nor be bothered to wander Paris to see if there is anyone jumping a puddle near the gard du nord station but I am lucky in that that is not a concern for me fortunately but I can sympathise with anyone who may have lost a sense of purpose about anything.

I hope that others can be more helpful as I still wonder whether any of the above might be so unhelpful to you that it would have been better if I hadn't responded at all

I hope you regain your sense of purpose

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Old 18th January 2022, 05:39 PM
John King John King is offline
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: County Durham
Posts: 2,843
Default Why do we take photographs

That is a very deep question. I could dismiss it by saying "Cos I do".

I sort of fell into it via my work aged 16 (I am now 77!) and follow up training where I was attached to the photographic department. I was smitten! I enjoy the technical aspect in a darkroom and am still striving for the perfect negative and print. (both colour and black and white) I could of course go full time digital but that is too easy, plus but there is a certain 'something' missing that digital does not come close to filling the gap. What that 'something' is also defies a perfect definition. Can you help? Is it a shortcut to nirvana using someone else's technology and skill.

I also enjoy looking at beautiful landscapes and others that are not quite up to the class of 'beautiful'. I cannot paint, (Except wall and doors) and have a problem getting a straight line with a pencil even when using a ruler. But I can see a subject that is worthwhile, and decide what could be half decent composition. I lumber along from crisis to crisis but get there in the end.

Last edited by John King; 18th January 2022 at 05:44 PM.
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Old 18th January 2022, 06:12 PM
Alan Clark Alan Clark is offline
Join Date: Aug 2009
Location: North Yorkshire
Posts: 1,354

Why do we take photographs?
I believe that, as a species, we have a biological need or urge, to create pictures of the world around us; specifically things that are important to us in the world. This need is easily seen in children. Nearly all children make pictures, from a very young age. This need seems to die out in a lot of us when we become adults, but persists in some. For thousands of years this need was met by carving, drawing and painting. Then photography was invented and another picture making medium was added to the list.
So I might tell myself that I take photographs of things I am interested in, things which somehow seem significant. If I am feeling pretentious I might tell myself that I am trying to express how I feel about a particular subject. But, in reality, I am probably just responding to some inner need that can't be put into words. Or, as John said, "Cos I do".
Why do some people give up photography? Probably when the need to do it simply dies out.

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Old 19th January 2022, 12:29 AM
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MartyNL MartyNL is offline
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Location: based in The Netherlands
Posts: 3,024

I think every hobby has its ups and downs and its dull moments but there are things that can be done and I’d like to share a few of mine.

One, I wanted to feel and enjoy the freedom and luxury of being an amateur. We are our own clients! So, I’ve lowered my expectations, not every shot is going to be a wall-hanger or a crowd-pleaser. I’ve let go and I’m having more fun.

Two, I find the print exchange rounds and the odd exhibition gives me and my photography a sense of purpose. The act of sharing, helps me to join the dots transforming an exercise into something more real.

Three, I’ve shifted away from focussing on results to enjoying the processes more and more and experimenting with different materials and applications.

Four, I’ve come to realise that my hobby, encompasses much more than only taking pictures, it’s totally fine to scout, buy and build kit, it’s good to have some forum interaction, read books and surf the net.

Five, personally, going somewhere new feeds my creativity, getting away from the familiar and getting fresh idea’s motivates me. I feel inspired by new surroundings.

Six, I’ve stopped beating myself up and feeling guilty about taking time-out or a break from taking pictures. I do believe it’s necessary and healthy to take a pause and sometimes even to press reset.

I should think we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. And on the whole, photography has helped me to look at the world differently; more intensely and more intently. It’s given me an appreciation of light and shade and my photography should be a celebration of that.

“Reaching a creative state of mind thru positive action
is considered preferable to waiting for inspiration.”
- Minor White, 1950
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