Why Make Photographs?

Why Make Photographs? September 4, 2015

High Voltage

I’ve been doing more photography recently; and I thought I’d say a few words about why I’m attracted to photography, and what I get out of it.

First of all, I’m no good at drawing.

I once made a high school art teacher quite angry with me by saying that I’d never been any good at drawing; and he was right, of course.  If that’s your attitude, you’re never going to improve.  But now, three-and-a-half decades later, I think it’s safe for me to admit that I’ve never been any good at drawing.  And yet, I like the visual arts, from Rembrandt’s paintings to Stephen Pastis’ cartoons.  Pastis is famous for saying he can’t draw (and so is Gary Larson), but despite their shortcomings as draughtsman they both excel me considerably.

Similarly with music.  I love music; I have fairly wide and eclectic tastes.  I can play the recorder, a little.  I can play the tin whistle, a little.  I can pick out notes on the piano.  I can sing a little.  But I don’t seem to have any particular flair for it.

In a nutshell, as an artist I’m a good writer.  But writing, at least the kind of writing I do, is an intellectual endeavor.  (I’m no poet, either.)  It’s a left-brain thing.  And since most of my activities are left-brained, it’s really helpful for me to spend time doing something right-brained.

And that’s the neat thing about photography.  There’s a lot of skill that goes into it: understanding focal lengths and f-stops and digital image processing and how to use your gear.  But fundamentally, photography is about seeing.  It’s about going out and looking around and seeing what you can see…and then figuring out how best to show it to someone else.  Once I’ve captured the image, sure, there’s a lot of technical wizardry that goes into making it look good—but even there, the final arbiter isn’t some intellectual standard, it’s my own eye, it’s me saying, “Yes, I like this.  I see beauty here.”

And then, photos are inherently about sharing.  There’d be not that much point in taking the pictures if no one ever saw them (though some photographers might disagree; IIRC, street photograph Gerry Winogrand famously left thousands of rolls of film he’d exposed but never developed, and some like Vivian Maier seem to have made photographs solely for themselves, rather like Emily Dickinson and her poetry).

So photography engages me with the world around me, the world that God created and pronounced good; and also with the people around me; and on a level I otherwise would seldom approach.  Sounds like a win!

photo credit: William H. Duquette

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