Why rather than How we make photographs

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Les McLean, Jul 7, 2005.

  1. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    As I was leaving Lee at Houston airport at the end of my stay in Texas he handed me a book called "Art and Fear" to read on the various flights I still had to make during my stay in the US. I found the book to be excellent reading for a number of reasons and one of the many questions it raised in my mind was "why do we make photographs not how do we make them". I have to admit that this is a subject that I have held near to my heart for the majority of the years that I have made photographs, so I thought that I'd give it an airing here in APUG.

    In APUG most questions and discussions we have are usually based around the the technical aspect of photography, how long do I develop a film in xyz developer, how do I do this or that, etc etc., but rarely are there questions about why we make photographs. Rarely do we make a post sharing the emotions we experience when we make an exposure that excites us or perhaps moves us to tears, yes I'm as guilty as the rest of us for I have never made such a confession in APUG. Are we frightened or embarrassed to admit to having some emotion, are we unable to find the words to express the reasons and feelings? What drives us to expose film, surely it's not to find out how long to stand in a darkened room shaking a plastic tube full of water and chemicals and then sloshing a piece of paper around a tray before turning on the light.

    Don't misunderstand me here, I'm not dismissing the how question, it's a very important aspect of making successful images, knowing how frees the mind and heart to concentrate on the most important aspect of photography, why do we make the photograph. Come on ladies and gentlemen of APUG, let's start an agony column and open our hearts and minds to each other and discuss our real reasons for sharing this fascinating and rewarding obsession of making photographs.

    By the way Lee thank you for the gift, it is a book that I shall treasure because a new found friend gave it to me. I know that I will read it many times and still find guidance, motivation and inspiration in it's pages, especially at those times when my own self confidence in why I make photographs is low, and it will pick me up as it did on those flights across the US in June.
     
  2. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Why? Sounds almost like a childs question - yet much more.

    To make money? To Gain Fame? To ??????

    Valid reasons to photograph, but sometimes I find myself to wrapped up in the how to really know the why, yet I know I am driven to photograph...to express something within. Is it confirmation, admiration...don't think so, could care less what most people think of the work I do, it has to be what I wanted first. The need to create has been there for years, why else would I drag a 8x10 camera into the woods, when it is a 100 degrees and 80% humidity.

    Is the why the reason I still feel excited when I first take a negative out of the tank, Les? Is this the smile on my face when I finally get a print that I saw in my minds eye..or is that still the how?

    Good question, that will take a while to think about...and be interesting to see the WHY? of others...

    Thanks
     
  3. Digidurst

    Digidurst Subscriber

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    What a touching post, Les. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    For me, making a photograph is about capturing the beauty, joy, and/or aw in the mundane. When I see something that makes me stop and truly dwell in the particular moment in time in which I find myself, that's when I know it's time to click the shutter. That's when it's time to give thanks.
     
  4. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Hi Les, I just bought your book, so I guess I'm still at the stage of How rather than Why...

    I must say in the first place that the reason why I came/found APUG was that I needed more knowledge on the analog photographical processes, so discussing the How was main reason Why I'm here. I believe this is also the case for many others, but I won't generalize.

    The process is part of the reason why I wanted to make photography. I love manual labor, hand-to-eye interactions, and while this is not woodworking, photo is still relying on my servo-motor centers enough to be considered manual. But the other Why behind doing photography in and out of itself, regardless of the process, was to make images.

    I studied literature during my BA and will keep doing so during my MA, so the visual art world is still at a certain distance from my experiences. Yet somewhere I was attracted to how visual arts become a manifestation of the mind that is not literalized the same way than it is with words. Images don't simply mirror or copy what they represent, and that is still the case with photography, whether or not we give it any bearing to truth.

    I find the visual stimulation exciting in more dimensions than the literary one, although it cannot create the same excitations. When you read books you're going one way, and it's only when you conceptualize the story that it becomes liberated from time. With pictures, you can remove time and the linearity of things. I know you can read time in a picture, but what interests me is the impression that being out of time can make.

    Finally there's the sheer beauty of the materials and its graceful defects. I hate JPEG noise, but you can give me grain the size of softballs and keep me happy. Looking at a well-made print is as worthy for me as looking at a good painting.

    So I guess I do photography because I like photographs, and because I like to do it with film and paper. :smile:
     
  5. papagene

    papagene Membership Council Council

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    Thanks Les for posting this. Tho I am not as eloquent as you I will try to give my reasons.
    First, I have two main styles (for lack of a better description) of work: landscape and still life. So I will break down my answer into two parts.
    Still lifes... these are an extension of the sculpture and paintings I used to do B-C (before children). I use many of the same concepts and issues, but now in photographic form. By working in photography I have found that images I create are more like the images in my minds eye.
    And like with my sculpture/paintings, I just HAVE TO get these images out of my head and onto paper. It's an urge to express what I am thinking and feeling, which at times can be very strong. Just gotta do my work!
    Landscapes... I grew up in a small New England town and spent many long hours as a youngster running through the local woods, wading across small streams (with unsuccessful attempts at catching fish and if we did catch one, we would carry it around all day in our pockets!! My mother loved that,) and swimming in local lakes. I love being out in the woods, around those small streams and at waters edge. Wish I could be out there more often. My photography of these places are artifacts of this passion. I love being out there and enjoy tremendously making photographs of those places.
    The people that know me best know that I am not the most talkative person around. My photography is my means of communicating my ideas and passions.
    I hope this makes sense.

    gene
     
  6. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    I first encountered "Art and Fear" when it was required reading for a workshop I took with Mark Citret several years ago. The thing is, I was so new to those considerations that I didn't "get" it for a looooong time after reading it. Only now am I all but tormented by wondering why I choose to photograph what I do, and am completely stuck on and in my uncertainty about such things. I think it's time to get out the book and reread it. Thanks, Les, for reminding me how worthwhile it is.
     
  7. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I write and teach about literature and the arts for a living. That is satisfying in its own way and is its own kind of skill, but I like having some things that I can leave more or less unanalyzed. Photography and music are those things for me.

    What does the work mean? If I thought too hard about that, it would be programmatic and boring.

    Why do I do it? When the light is good it probably releases endorphins in the brain or something of that nature. I think I'll leave it at that.
     
  8. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    An excellent topic for discussion Les. Thanks for bringing it up.

    I've been the same, having always had a need to create for as long as I remember. Most of the things I've done in my life, including a couple occupations, have been centered around that need.

    Photography greatly simplifies the creative process. Its an extremely inexpensive method compared to many others. Creating an engineering design can be tremendously expensive, and take several years. Maybe that's why I enjoy the simple jobs that make innovative use of things. The same argument could be made for architecture. Drawing a building design on paper is cheap and takes relatively little time. But actually building the structure takes some enormous resources and time.

    Yes, too much time is spent dwelling on the technical aspects. One of the reasons I enjoy LF contact printing so much is that the process is so straightforward, allowing me to concentrate much more on the creative side of things.

    Finally, photography is relatively unlimited in its scope. One is really not locked in to a narrow, specific genre. For some reason, all of this seems to light my fire.
     
  9. Donald Miller

    Donald Miller Member

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    Without getting overly analytical I will simply respond by asking "Why does a person breath?"
     
  10. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    It's a form of self-verification. The world is either somewhat surreal or I have surreal visions that I need to put in concrete form. Photographic imagery says this is what I saw. It either verifies a vision or lets me make one of my own creation into a tangible object. If I want to really go overboard with surreal, phantasmagoric images, I'll paint them in oils rather than with Photoshop or other digital media. I reserve Photography for that which is real.

    As one might infer from the preceding, I also find the photographic processes very therapeutic. :smile:

    Joe
     
  11. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Why take photos? For me? I can not do otherwise.
     
  12. photomc

    photomc Member

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    Well Les, you have really done it now...I will be thinking about this for some time. Guess I should get the book and read it, because it might help with the different thoughts I have on the subject.

    Taking time to mull this over, one reason as to why is to capture a moment..like a special event - wedding, holiday, or just some other occasion that is good to recall. When I look at family snaps, I am transported back to that time..remember the event or person. To some extent I feel this when I look at almost any photograph..either remembering the place/time - like the photos from the old Life magazine - or recalling a some place that I have been at a completely different time.

    Now these would be the snapshots, just as valid to me as when I go out to photogrpah for myself - what was Adams used to say, there are assignments from without and assignments from within..or something to that affect. It is the why of the the assignments from within that you have me thinking about.

    Will post more as I mull this over more, hopefully so will others.
     
  13. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Hmm, Deep Question Les, and very good....

    My why comes from within, the ability to capture a moment in time, that will never be repeated and will never be the same to any one person on the earth, we all see the same thing so many different ways, each one of my exposures becomes a special moment in time to me, I can only hope that the resulting image, somehow shows a small bit of what I saw at that particular moment, I think the why is a special part of our being, as a photographer , telling the story is the most important part of what I do, the money, the fame, the commercialism is very secondary to the goal.

    Dave
     
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  15. mark

    mark Member

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    Interesting. For me there are three reasons I take photographs.

    1-To get away from the stress of work and home. Without boring you with the details Photography allows me to get away from that. It is my time to be with me.

    2-Because it makes me focus on the good and beautiful. Going through the motions with a LF camera puts me in a very meditative state. I deal with negative energy daily and see too much bad. Without the meditation of photography and forcing my self to seek out the beautiful I would implode. Sometimes I feel I could go through the motions click the shutter and throw away the film because what I need is to follow the steps. To look for, find, and experience the beautiful.

    3- Photography allows me to satisfy my need to create. It is a need that is as basic as breathing.
     
  16. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

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    For me it's a combination of things, it's partly the photography and partly the type of life that comes with it. The travel to beautiful places, the search for special moments, the early morning light.

    My oldest memory is from when I was 3 or 4. As I recall I got up early on a saturday morning, my parents sound asleep and not available to amuse me, and as I was not content to watch "Modern Farmer" on tv (something which now seems to be an unusual choice for a tv programmer to run in NYC), I dressed myself and went into the back yard. The singing of the birds, the quality of the light, the peacefulness of the moment, gave me a feeling of serenity. Perhaps my first ever moment of serenity.

    Later in life, in my teens, I started to enjoy doing photography. As so many have before me I learned that the best light was usually around sunrise or sunset. So again I would get up early, this time to enjoy the serenity of the morning with a camera. My photographs would remind me of that morning and I would find peace in them. And now after having witnessed so many sun rises in so many truly beautiful places I can still find that serenity every morning.

    All the testing, all the equipment, all the effort and spent resources is just to be able to reproduce those fleeting serene moments. And now I am fortunate enough to be able to share those moments with many others.
     
  17. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Why do I photograph?


    To stop time.


    Michael
     
  18. jimgalli

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    I decided I should post first without reading other answers and then go back and read what has been written on this excellent post. Thanks Les.

    I make photos because I enjoy it. But that's too simple isn't it. We're all pretty basic folk who work hard and respond to reward aren't we. Photography has brought me that result in a deeper fashion than almost any other pursuit.

    I love the thrill of the hunt. I love having all of the tools in my bag to create something of true intrinsic value. Something excellent. I love discovery. I love "seeing". I love that the camera can see so much better than I can. If I want it to it can see 105 degrees all tack sharp. Or if I decide, it can see just a tiny bit like a dream. I love the feeling that I've captured something that will be really fulfilling when it's completed. Knowing it's "in the can". I love the anticipation when the film is sloshing in the developer. Telling myself "6 more minutes and we can have our first look". I love those first looks! Too much. Usually I have to drag the stuff out of the can after the first water rinse is completed post fix. I love looking at a row of 8X10 negs hanging and drying. And I love to print. I love listening to grand pipe organ music while I'm locked away in my tiny dark room making prints until the wee hours. I hate putting them in frames but I love looking at them when I'm finished.

    Then there's the people you meet. I've met some of the finest most giving and most gifted people of my life in this hobby. Lasting friendships are some of the greatest rewards of all.

    Finally, I love giving the pictures away. I almost never sell my pictures. I pay for my hobby with Ebay profits and that allows me to ignore the part I would hate if it was necessary. Marketing.

    So that's why I make pictures. Purely selfish to the maximum. It brings me pleasure and fulfillment. I feel that in some small way I'm creating a legacy of excellence. Is the world a better place because of what I'm doing? Perhaps for a dozen or so people who enjoy a pretty picture on the wall it is. That's not much......but it's something.
     
  19. MurrayMinchin

    MurrayMinchin Membership Council Council

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    This is a good'un Les...although I didn't seem to catch *WHY YOU PHOTOGRAPH* in your post??!?? (I hope you're going to let us peek at your innards while we splay ours :smile: )

    Here goes nothing in as few words as possible...

    I'm compelled to bring back from my wanderings in nature, my interpretations of those things which amazed me.

    Some compose music, some paint, some sculpt, some write, some are numb.

    For me, the clearest path from the amazement felt within to the most honest expression of that amazement, is a photograph.

    It is an ever increasingly complex struggle. As I gain experience and control over the technical aspects of the medium, I'm drawn to new ways of interpreting that which amazes me, which then forces me to push the technical limits of what I know which opens even more doors of expression...AINT IT GREAT!!!!!!!!!! :smile: :smile: :smile: :smile:

    Murray
     
  20. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I photograph because it is a vehicle to see the world in a deeper fuller way. In some ways the image is of a secondary importance to me. Through photography I have learned to examine details from banality to exquisite beauty. The physical act of making the exposure and the print allows me to put a little bit of myself into the thing that for a split second captivated me.

    I am amazed at how I see the world so much different from people not involved in photography or other visual art. No matter what activity I am involved in I am aware of textures and colors, light and shadow, intensity of the sun, the color of the light, contours, juxtapositions, etc. When i walk into a store or restaurant I am always looking at all the faces, examining the clothes, the postures and the sound of voices. I believe that being involved in photography has allowed me to really see the the world around me.
     
  21. Greg Davis

    Greg Davis Member

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    It is a visual expression of how I feel. When I see something I want to photograph, it is because of how the subject matter has made me feel, and I want to express that emotion through a photograph. It is not my aim to show you the object I reacted to, but to show the reaction I had.
     
  22. George Losse

    George Losse Member

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    Les great question...... I make photographs for a number of reasons, to have an excuse to go see and experience new things, the window into myself is also very important to me, the wow factor of seeing a negative hanging to dry is fun, it takes your mind back to the moment of the shooting.

    The most important reason I make photographs is there are no drugs or drink that can come close to the "high" I get when I’m shooting and I connect with a subject. When you get into that zone where the images are flowing endlessly and effortlessly, time stands still, and the work flows out of you. It drains you of energy and refreshes your spirit at the same time.
     
  23. c6h6o3

    c6h6o3 Member

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    I photograph to make a beautiful object; namely, the final print. My photography has little to do with how I felt at the time of making an exposure as I've made some very satisfying photographs while in the throes of some pretty negative feelings. Usually if I'm not in a good mood I just won't be out photographing.

    Nor does it have much to do with how I feel about the subject since I've made meaningful images of subjects about which I'm indifferent or even find disgusting. The ground glass has great power to transform the mundane into something transcendent.

    The act of photography is complete for me only when a good print is mounted, overmatted, framed and on the wall. Ahh, that's better.
     
  24. Ed Sukach

    Ed Sukach Member

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    I'm working on the answer/s to this. So far ... many reasons ... but I'm trying to determine the core.

    Right now, all I can say is, "I don't really know - yet."

    I mentioned this quest for the - MY - "why" after commenting on Rites and Passages, by Minor White.
     
  25. haris

    haris Guest

    Good question,

    I could say I make photographs because of compromise. I was allways interested in art, but never enough to dedicate myself to art as profession. And I think I do not have talent for painting. On the other hand I was also interested in technology and science. And I find photography is compromise between art and technology.

    And in todays world which get uglier every day, to preserve beauty in photographs for future. Then, photography for me is therapy.

    Conclusion, no matter if I am good photographer or not, I make photographs because I like to do that more than lots of other things.
     
  26. Leon

    Leon Member

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    "to stop time" ... as michael says ... that is it.

    as an athiest, I have no concept of what happens after I die, because I'm dead. But that is terrifying to me. So, I make photographs in an attempt to show the one or two generations that follow me, to whom I may still have some importance, how I see the world and what is beautiful to me.

    That's a bit depressing isnt it?