Perhaps it is because the year now draws to a close and the skies grow more ashen.
Perhaps it is because I’m in a more self-reflective state these days given the declining health of loved ones.
Or perhaps it is simply because I have been asked this more than once and have never felt as though I offered a complete or compelling enough response.
So… here are the reasons I photograph. There are ten of them altogether.
I begin by noting with vigor one of the reasons I do not photograph and that is to make money, to put food on the table, to advance a career. My means of sustaining myself and my family lies elsewhere and so photography is diversion, relief only. I have had moments when the thought did cross my mind… but I’ve suppressed the instinct, declined the opportunity to let it fester. Why? Because I have always feared the loss of respite… and so I’ve protected it.
Why then do I photograph?
1. It helps me see.
Family, job, volunteer activities, plus an active Walter Mitty imagination. That’s me. I can get up into my own head and travel through space and time without actually seeing anything. My visual acuity is sufficient enough to allow me to operate a car, traverse through busy city streets, accomplish all of the necessary activities of daily living, but rarely do I notice, rarely do I truly see.
When I am carrying a camera, I look through the viewfinder or onto the back LCD screen and observe, carefully so. I notice contrasts, vivid colors, the textures within shadows, the places where light illuminates or washes over detail. I notice. Photography does that to me, even if I never press down on the shutter button.
2. It affixes me to a moment.
My mind wanders to points on the distant shore. I don’t profess to be particularly adept at it, but I constantly consider chess moves on the board in front of me, thinking through implication and consequence, action or its opposite. When I lift a camera to my eye, not only do I see but my mind ceases all forms of time travel. I plant myself in a particular moment and after I observe, I exhale and then I just simply am.
3. There are associations aplenty.
I have been fortunate to be able to visit many fascinating locations. Often while on business related travel, I have been able to get out of dodge for a few hours or simply stroll around a city foreign to me. I always, always make sure I have a capture device of some sort. For this reason, photography and adventure are linked, intertwined. I can’t think of one without the other and so I photograph to elicit visual memories of my happiest times.
4. It allows me to remember.
I’m in my mid-fifties now. Retention, remembrance grow mildly dimmer and recollections dance together in ways that are more difficult to isolate and singularly inspect these days. Culled galleries in my photo library showcase the works of which I have been most proud, but the forgotten images in between bring spark and light. They nudge me toward recall. The visuals, the smells, the emotions return back. I see family members passed and children who back then wanted only to sit upon my lap and to hear a made up story,
Photographs once worthless and scattered likes pennies on a sidewalk increasingly are lifted up into my hands and considered, slowly, carefully, even lovingly. They have become treasure.
5. So I can create.
The creative process. Readers here are unlikely to need further explanation. Still though…
I have ample opportunity to create in my business profession, in ongoing volunteer activities, and in the normal day-to-day. But photography grants me the purest and most direct means by which I can do so. Pope John Paul II once wrote that artists enjoy an opportunity to participate in the creative process of divinity. That prospect is both heartening and humbling.
6. It helps me find beauty.
Sure, I have loved photographing on the plains of Africa, within the Alaskan fjords and amidst the ruins of a bygone Roman city. I most certainly have.
But photography allows me to find nuance, intrigue, mystery and beauty all around me within the routine, the average, and the typical. This pursuit alone, to find beauty, provides constant hope and proof that such beauty truly exists and that it is always right there merely for the seer to discover.
7. It is voice.
I would not otherwise know how to describe what I see. I would have no other way to story tell what I care most about. Photography is my singing lesson, my song.
I am working on a project now to frame up, to present the story of a young man whose life was trampled upon and stolen by the ravages of an opiate addiction. Without photography, I would know of no other way.
8. It’s about the gear.
This one is about coming clean. I like reading manuals. I like watching product review videos. I like smartly designed devices. I like the way manufacturers present their offerings in elegant packaging, unveiled like fine art. I like gear.
And a part of this art form actually is about the equipment you use. Understanding it, mastering it can go along way toward improvement.
9. And it’s not about the gear.
The characteristics of Shakespeare’s pen had no influence on the development of “Hamlet”. The nature of his brush did not account for Picasso’s “Three Musicians” masterpiece. Similarly, the specific camera and lens I use won’t craft story, won’t elicit emotion, won’t stir objects together into a formidable composition. Much as I hover my cursor over the buy button, beckoning on-line sellers would love me to feel that depressing the mouse button will make me a better photographer. In the end… I know better.
Oh and all of the images in this post were created using a range of cameras, from an inexpensive point and shoot up to a full frame DSLR… and I bet you can’t tell the difference.
10. Because I will never arrive.
This is not a journey with a destination. This is not a project to complete. In my life filled with todo lists and a forever pursuit of outcomes, photography is never something I will check off as done.
And sometimes this frustrates me. Sometimes I want to punch a wall over my shortage of progress, over my seeming lack of improvement. I will never conquer this thing, this curse, this menace.
Then I grab my camera, open my door and try again.
These are the reasons I photograph.
Why do you?