Why rather than How we make photographs
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
Long live Ed "Big Daddy" Roth!!
"I don't care about Milwaukee or Chicago." - Yvon LeBlanc
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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.
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.
An excellent topic for discussion Les. Thanks for bringing it up.
Originally Posted by photomc
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.
Without getting overly analytical I will simply respond by asking "Why does a person breath?"
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.