The other day I read somewhere that 216,000 photographs are posted online EVERY MINUTE. More or less. That’s almost 13 million every hour. Good grief!
I got to wondering why we “take” pictures.
Of course, it has gotten so easy now that even very small children can make their own. I think for these littlest photographers it is a matter of imitating the grownups and learning a new skill. Although I do recall with urgent affection and nostalgia the black and white pictures I made with my Brownie camera at summer camp, in about 1950. I sure wish I had them still.
What do people make pictures of? Both the familiar—family, pets, celebrations, hometowns, possessions—and the strange—events, vacations, oddities, amazements.
What impels me to photograph something I see every day, such as my child or my spouse or my cat? I think it’s a kind of statement of love, of reassurance that the subject of my image is a treasured part of my life and in some way belongs to me. Hospitalized a few years back, and lonely in the night, I took such solace in the images of home, captured on my phone and viewed in the dark.
Those kinds of pictures become sublimely valuable as time passes and their subjects are no longer present in reality. The picture of my great-grandfather; the pictures of the wallpaper in my bedroom and of my backyard when I was a kid; of Tippy the Cat; of my precious Mother. These images say this was me, this is where I came from and who I am.
On the other hand, we take countless millions of pictures of things not familiar at all.
Something we see calls out to us—in the words of photographer Joel Meyerowitz: “Stay! You’re being spoken to! Answer!” and we answer by taking away an image. Our answer arises from wonder, from amazement, from reverence, acknowledging by our action that we perceive a marvel.
And then we want to share it. I was here! I saw this!
Isn’t it beautiful/gross/scary/awesome/iconic? See it? See? See? I am showing it to you, the thing I got to see. Can you see it?
Or maybe we don’t share those pictures, maybe just the action of pushing the button at the time is enough, our nod to the wonder of the thing.
So think about this question when you take your next pictures. I would love to know your ideas.
Allen Clark 07:14am, 12/13/2013
Hilary, your thoughts on taking photos stimulated a number of thoughts. You’ve made me think about my persistent habit of taking pictures of things rather than people. My wife has commented on this many times. I do like taking shots of my family in action but not so much when posed, especially when traveling. I particularly like unposed pictures of them. But the preponderance of shots I take are of things that strike my eye as beautiful ( nature), unusual (I am building a collection of close-ups of tar repair patterns on asphalt roads), extreme close-ups of rock formations, sticks, etc., and the like. Common to all of these, I think, is a wish to extract from our everyday surroundings and encounters art or at least artistic arrangements and compositions. In this sense, when in take pictures of people, I prefer to catch special moments rather than staged poses.
I hope that this habit doesn’t mean I am not interested in people, just that I prefer discovering rather than simply capturing or recording.
Thanks for your post on this subject.
Allen Clark 07:34am, 12/13/2013
Hilary, a couple more thoughts. I was just looking at some of your photos from the trip to SW America, especially the close ups of flowers. These are very much like some mine. I realize that what such shots are to me is a desire to focus on ( at that moment and then whenever I look at the results) a total composition that would not be even noticed perhaps had I not captured it. It’s a way of finding beauty in what might only be seen as clutter or even insignificance otherwise. This is particularly true of my tar shots,for example. The actual reality is simply utilitarian, maybe even ugly , but the resultant shot has design, art, composition. And if I do some photo editing, I can transform the composition in many interesting and pleasing ways. Of course, the tar shots are quite different for shooting close ups of wood or shrine or flowers, which don’t need Photoshop (and probably shouldn’t), but all share this’s
Erasure in finding composition in chaos.
Hilary 08:40am, 12/13/2013
Thanks so much for your interesting comments. Yes, the idea of discovery rather than capture: I love and adore when I make an image of a lot of people together, and then bit by bit crop all around the picture—and always discover someone I had not even seen when actually there in person. Hello, I think, Hello there, I have found you!