Why do photography?

Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman

Some years ago I posted my thoughts about why we do photography.  But recently, after that exact same discussion with someone who has become bored with photography, I thought I’d revisit it and state my thoughts again.

Why do photography? I posed that question in an online forum and received some unremarkable responses such as, “because I can” and “because I have a camera”, (not very bright or witty in my view), however, there were two responses that I really liked.

The first statement came from someone called Soenda who eloquently wrote, “Because taking pictures has helped me see better. Before, I was less aware of the way light strikes leaves. I didn’t notice the symmetry of birds on a wire. Sunsets were masses of agreeable colour; now they are gold, pink, lavender and blue”.

The second came from Laura who philosophically said, “Because when I look at my life, I cannot say I have done nothing. The proof exists that I have seen at least a wee bit of the world. I take pictures because it is artistic expression, and I think when we repress our artistic nature, we do ourselves no good, no good at all. I take pictures because it is fun. I can spend the entire day taking pictures, and it could not be a day better spent…”

I thought about how for me photography changes. There are times when I just want to play and am interested in nothing more than experimenting, and my goal is just seeing how something works.

The camera also allows me to document, or simply record a memory of particular subjects.

I enjoy photographing my friends, my family and my pets (and might place them on my computer’s screen saver), and of course, photography and taking pictures has been the way I have earned my living for the past 40 plus years.

And, of course, there are times when I try to visually create something that says something to others about what I see.

Many see photography as a way to express themselves artistically, of which I heartily agree. Expressing oneself through photography is easy, as it doesn’t require the trapping of other mediums like painting or sculpture, and merely requires a camera.

Photography, for those who first wanted to make photographs, became accessible during the 1800s. The first surviving image made by Jacques Daguerre was of some artistically arranged plaster casts resting on a window ledge in 1837, and a short 20 years later photographers were wandering the North American wilderness and newly constructed cities in the west, creating photographs with the same intensity, although not in the same numbers as we are today. Photography became a way not only to document, but also to express one’s feelings artistically.

Why take pictures?

For many it is to document history, we know about the civil war in the 1860s through the photographs of Mathew Brady, and the Vietnam War in the 1970s by David Kennerly. Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams, Elliott Porter, Imogene Cunningham, Bret Weston and others gave us their visual opinions of American landscapes.

There were those like Dorothea Lang and Walker Evens that during the great depression of the 1930s told us about the human condition. While photographers Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon and Canadian, Yousuf Karsh, celebrated the beauty of the human expression.

For some the question, “Why do photography?” may be very philosophical and for others practical.

Soenda commented, “Because taking pictures has helped me see better.” And Laura wrote, “I take pictures because, when I look at my life, I cannot say I have done nothing.”

I wonder what readers would answer.

These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at emcam@telus.net. Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. Or call (250) 371-3069.

I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment.