Cake
  • Log In
  • Sign Up
    • There is quite a number of brilliant photographers here on Cake, and plenty of deep thinkers. I'd like to talk to this crowd about the "why" in photography, mostly on the side of the photographer, but also on the side of the beholders.

      Make no mistake, it's a singularly personal question for me. I liked photography for as long as I can remember - my father being an enthusiastic and prolific photographer likely the best reason. He shot black and white film, and we had great time developing it and making prints in a closet or bathroom turned darkroom, and maybe later glossing some prints on a strange electric contraption with a heating element and two chromed plates. On some holiday trips father would splurge and shoot a roll of East German ORWO slide film (much better than most Instagram-ish filters of today :D )

      I did my own share of b/w Soviet Zenith camera with Helios lenses, and then, later, was a relatively early adopter of digital photography, with one of earlier Sony devices (one with the 3" floppy), but more seriously with one of the early Fujifilm cameras - I don't really remember the model. Latched on Canon 30D later and became a Canon user. With digital, I really took off, and at some point I even took a break from my IT career and spent a couple years as a commercial event photographer, with travel, horses and music gigs as a kind of personal interests. Got seduced back to IT, though.

      Then a number of factors converged. I started to see most interesting scenery during my solo travels on a motorcycle, and there wasn't a lot of space to cart around a DSLR. When I took it with me anyway, I found that I was reluctant to mess with unpacking it to make a single shot and pack away, when a decent point-n-shoot or, increasingly, a cameraphone would do. I started to doubt the feasibility of my traditional postprocessing pipeline (Lightroom, Photoshop and all) when the total outcome were a few frames to be posted to Instagram or Facebook or perhaps Flickr (which went into decline around that time) or shared with a few relatives or close friends. But even more importantly, I started to question - why am I taking these pictures? Why am I bothering with the lenses, cameras, postprocessing, backups and publication pipelines? I was able (I think) to divine some answers.

      The most important driver, I am pretty sure, was the desire to capture in some way the beauty of a moment, be it a landscape, a street moment or an abstract geometric order or chaos, and share it with the viewers. However, there is a firehose of imagery today which contains endless amounts of permutations of these beautiful moments, and where sunsets and flowers were 10-15 years ago, all categories are now. Not to mention the dazzling amount of delivery and exposition channels. I no longer feel I can connect to any kind of understandable audience, beyond just throwing things out in hope they will make someone somewhere a bit happier by sheer luck.

      In terms of preserving memories I have conceded that cameraphone pictures are more than enough, and semi- or fully automatic ways of posting the results into Instagram/Google Photos albums/etc make dissemination and archival totally painless. More importantly, I can't help but think that it is vastly more important to be able to have these [visual] memories (annotated and enhanced by actual experiences) in my head than to have them on file or in print. I know that the true mastery for a photographer ( or an artist, for that matter) is the ability to transmit or evoke experiences via an image, to people who haven't been there and/or do not have any context; have always strived to achieve that to at least some extent. But since I kinda numbed to the existence of an actual audience, this truth has lost the impulse.

      And so I drifted away from photography. I gave most of my camera equipment away. I post maybe a frame or two to Instagram every month or so, pictures shot from my phone. I have more pictures of my kids on my Telegram chats w/ family than elsewhere. When traveling, I spend more time looking and committing to memory instead of peering through viewfinders and padding memory cards. But still, from time to time I feel the tug of being able to produce these beautiful moments caught in [mostly digital] amber, and think about getting back to it, but then the philosophy and "why" and "what for" kicks in and the feeling recedes.

      So what are your whys? Why do you do it. Have you had to spar with such philosophical questions in regard to your photographic hobby? If you don't make photos yourself but like to see and consume this type of art, what are your thoughts on the matter?

    • Very interesting conversation. I also appreciate you sharing the background and reasons for photography. By contrast, I was never much into photography and only got in with the availability of first point/shoot cameras of digital era.

      To me it's first and foremost a way to preserve memories, that aims to include the lived feelings each recorded image resurrects in my brain. Most of the times of motorcycle rides and scenery, I love nature photography but also street and architecture.

      An interesting point was discussed recently by @treyratcliff and @Vilen - as to the why's some do share their content online. My current thought on it is, a question. Why do artists create and share their work rather than keep it secret? Are majority of people wired same way or can they be categorized in "givers" and "takers" or somewhere in between?

      It really made me think why I share photos of my rides, is it to brag or to inspire. I think neither, but lean towards perhaps the latter, i.e. making others feel what I experienced, by them seeing the pictures. What does that get me psychologically speaking? I know it does give me joy as if I am telling some member of a family about my trips, and am glad when they receive it and provide input or "likes" hahaha! Is it something I can - or should- live without?

    • What a beautiful question and way to ask it. I think about this question all the time because I love photography but sometimes question how much time I devote to it and why.

      For me, it's the storytelling. I love passionate photo essays. I just spent way to many hours photographing this and telling the stories behind it, and I questioned the why every step of the way:

      I think that's why my motorcycle forum, Adventure Rider, is built the way it is. It's about the ride reports of amazing adventures that deserve great telling. It's why Cake is the way it is: so you can publish visual stories about climbing trips, murals you've seen, or the trip you took in your Tesla. I love these.

      My concern is they are work to create. It gives me courage that on Adventure Rider, people do the work and we have enough readers to make it worthwhile. The dream is Cake will become that too, where people will tell the stories they can't tell on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit and we'll have enough readers to make it worth their while.

    • This is a really fascinating question.

      As a society, we have recently been catapulted into a world where our lives are now *completely saturated* with visual imagery. I think this new reality has a profound effect on how we contemplate and try to answer the question, whether we are aware of it or not.

      I used to enjoy photography as a hobby - took a few classes in college and enjoyed contemplating different perspectives and learning new ways of seeing. Like you, @mbravo, I eventually gave up on all the equipment and whittled down to a point-and-shoot and a camera phone - taking pictures when I travelled on my motorcycle and saw unusual things I wanted to remember.

      Then I started to see younger relatives buying DSLRs and marketing themselves as professional photographers, taking pictures of their friends’ weddings and new babies. Everyone wanted/needed nice photos to post on social media, and it seemed the art of photography got lost among the masses. The sheer number of photographic images that we see each day now has sort of inoculated us from the magic that serious photography once had. I’m not sure we can ever go back.

      As @Dracula said, I, too, get lost while trying to find the purpose for sharing my photographs anymore. I don’t have any desire to perpetuate the “look at me and look what I’ve done” mentality that seems to permeate a lot of what’s posted to social media these days. I actually find that I post more photographs as replies rather than statements, if that makes any sense? In that way, they feel more meaningful and more authentic somehow.

      (Ironically, I did just post a series of photos here on Cake before seeing this post. Ha. But even then, I had a different motive. I wanted to share some quirkiness with my friends on Cake, and stay in touch even though I’m not able to spend much time on the platform while I’m away from home.)

      Such a thought-provoking question. Thanks for posting it, @mbravo. I look forward to reading what others think.

    • I shoot photos. Some of them good. I don't share them online, though I did to my private circles on G+. For the most part, I find that the photos I've shot that I like the best don't really look like the photos I see on the net, which leads me to conclude at least that I'm still an individual.

      I, too, half gave up photography for a while, got rid on my old film equipment and gave my D100 to my young second cousin in the hopes she could make something of it. And then had only a mediocre point and shoot for a number of years. But I found I missed having a proper camera, so I picked up a Sony Mirrorless and have been enjoying it. I'd like to print and frame up some of the photos to hang in the house - only procrastination holds me back.

      Anyway, what keeps me going isn't the need to share or sell photos. It's more the challenge of self improvement. Sometimes I take shots because I want to share some experience or a place, but those aren't the ones I end up liking. The ones I like most are distillations. In the Trey Ratcliff conversation, I asked about the future of photography and he said he thought 360 of 3D might be the future. I can believe that, but find it a little disappointing as an answer. I've been thinking about why, and I think the answer is that I most like to express myself by taking the things around me and boiling them down to some essence - finding that kernal of... truth? character?... and revealing that by cutting away the rest. That wouldn't happen with 360 photography - not in the same way.

      So, ultimately, I enjoy photography because I see it as a personal challenge to find worthwhile images in my surroundings, and to get better at capturing those.

    • In the Trey Ratcliff conversation, I asked about the future of photography and he said he thought 360 of 3D might be the future. I can believe that, but find it a little disappointing as an answer.

      Yeah, I thought that was pretty lame. It's basically just Google Street View. I think that may be the ultimate evolution of video - we have it already with VR - but photography is more about picking out specific things and isolating them; an illustration of one small part of reality, not a replication of it.

    • Photography for me is about the process. There's no storytelling behind it. No memories. Just things I thought were pretty or worth capturing. I shoot almost exclusively landscapes and I really enjoy actively looking for images while I'm out. I also like working with the raw files to develop an image into what I see as the best it can be given my processing skills at the time. Sometimes I revisit old images to see if there's anything I can do to improve them. Sometimes I'll sit on an image for years before I'm happy with it.

      I don't think I will ever call myself a professional photographer. People have told me I should try, but I'm not interested in the business side of it and I don't feel like I'm actually good enough to be successful in the first place. Photography is mostly just therapeutic for me. My favorites often don't get much of a reaction with people online. But I recently opened up an account with Fine Art America because the financial and effort costs are pretty low. I'm in the process of getting all my finished work uploaded. Photography is really my only creative outlet and I mostly just like having it out there for people to see, even if it's a small audience. If I can make even a tiny bit of money on the side, that's just an added bonus.

    • Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to this thread this far! Your points of view and experiences are priceless.

      Angles of storytelling and personal craft/hobby where the process is more important than the end result resonate with me the most.

      Still, for me, the question of internally connecting to an audience remains. It is immensely satisfactory to craft a good story, and even more so to do it visually or enhance it with a visual component of your own making (at least until the sensory realities of William Gibson's The Winter Market (one of his most soul-piercing short stories, right next to Dogfight and The Belonging Kind) come to life). But who am I making a story for? Who do I hope to reach? Why do I think it will make someone better or different?

      Craft, which, in the case of photography, is also definitely an art, requires no such justification because it can be entirely self-contained, and especially so if one is not really interested in a tangible "end" result. The question that nags there is - is a hardware and cost-intensive hobby/craft/art really better in any way than a completely (ok, almost completely) equipment-free pursuit to train one's perception and ability to appreciate the beauty of the world and all the meaningless coincidences going on around us every second?

      I did warn about the philosophy :)

    • I think photography and visual arts in general have a huge impact on our consciousness, the other parts being oral and written (unless I am missing few). And to my mind, ever since reading childhood fables and stories, I realized what constitutes their truly magic elixir isn't in what is seen or shown by the art, in this case photography, I think that is just the beam of light and color projected on the screen, rather, the amazing stuff is made of the mental images they create in the audience! What did the artist aim for, and what actually results in his viewer's mind's eye is what fascinates me.

    • My why is mostly I'm in it for the money. About 20% of my income is made by photographing cars and motorcycles for print and social media channels. Some event coverage too. Hack work.

      As such I care about the integrity and originality of my images as design, information and sales elements ... artistry - not so much. I do find that the end results are mostly commensurate with effort - and/or expense.

      My personal philosophy is best summed up by the classic George Jetson quote: "My button pushing finger is killing me." :-)

    • Meaningfulness.

      Such an interesting topic!

      I am happy to see you putting the issues into words so eloquently. Decades of deep thinking about this very topic makes it really hard for me to articulate my own ideas succinctly, though.

      Keep stabbing at it and please keep sharing your thoughts.

      The question that nags there is - is a hardware and cost-intensive hobby/craft/art really better in any way than a completely (ok, almost completely) equipment-free pursuit to train one's perception and ability to appreciate the beauty of the world and all the meaningless coincidences going on around us every second?

      I have found that the hardware/cost-intensive approach is better only in that it records one’s efforts. It leaves a trace as to where one has been. It facilitates the making of some of life’s meaningful breadcrumbs so to speak. This, in turn, pushes one onward.

      The equipment-free approach can result in extensive stretches of treading water and navel-gazing rather than active exploration. It is hard to know which is which without some sort of tangible trace or record to which one may look back and refer.

      Also, the exploration of meaningfulness is not linear, so some sort of physical record of one’s exploration helps to establish the terrain and realm of meaningfulness as it is discovered. It also helps to facilitate conversations with others who are on a similar quest.

    • I think this question is closely related to another we hear often in photography: Does gear matter? And the answers generally go something like this: 1) You can make great images without expensive equipment, so don't worry about what you're using; 2) The gear doesn't help you see what you want to capture, but it can make it easier to realize what you're after.

      @lidja already touched on some of my thoughts, so I'll try not to repeat too much. I'm not sure that any one craft is inherently better than another at training perception. I think the desire to improve your craft is more important. But photography may be the gateway for one person while painting is for another. I would never have chosen painting or pencil/charcoal sketching because I don't have the skill with the tools to represent things the way I would want them. Or the dexterity and fine motor control. Nor do I have the interest in building those skills. Likewise, someone that grew up painting may have found it difficult to grasp the interplay between focal lengths, depth of field, aperture, ISO, shutter speed, and so on. The medium that will be more effective to a person is the one that allows them to make progress.

      People usually say they learn most by making mistakes. But if you don't see any progress you might end up feeling like the effort isn't worth it. If you give up, you stop learning. I had some more written out, but I realized I can't put it any better than @lidja already did, so I'll just refer to her previous comment regarding that. But I will say that I've written without an explicit distinction between technical skill and artistic eye or whatever you want to call it. They definitely are two different skill sets, but I think they influence each other enough that it can be difficult to truly separate them.

    • Whew... "Why?" is a tough question here, like in most contexts...

      Brief background: started a camera club in high school, with a good friend (now a brother-in-law!) and a physics teacher; darkroom was an underutilitized closet off the physics classroom. Shot only in black-and-white because we had no budget for developing color (and doing our own developing was the only option). Continued through college and into my early 30s maybe. All of it was with Minolta SLRs. When digital came along, it sort of sucked all the interest out of the pursuit for me. I didn't care for the images I could make with digital cameras for a loooong time, and had never owned one of my own. (Used my wife's, when she wasn't using them; she bought them -- several Nikon Coolpix versions over the years -- for photographing stuff for eBay sales.) When smartphones came along it took me a long time to warm to them as "cameras." But then I latched onto the LG G-series phones, which led me to start looking at hardware specs again... And then, out of the blue, last summer my wife surprised me with a Lumix GX85 (mirrorless) kit.

      So that's the hardware odyssey. But the "why?" (for me) is more elusive, and on reflection I think the answer ties into that moment in the record when I lost interest in shooting photos almost altogether -- the motivational pivot at the moment when digital took center stage.

      It was pitched as a technological revolution, and it was. But the hallmark of technology, especially of technology-driven art, has always been easy reproducibility. Even when you have no intention of reproducing the image itself, you're reproducing the act... all you've gotta do is hold the shutter button down, and don't release it, and you've suddenly got 400 nearly-but-not-quite-exactly-the-same images of pretty damn near the same moment. In short, it cheapens the moment itself. Before, every moment seemed critical: catch it, or lose it. Now all of a sudden you didn't need any particular moment, because you could have another moment, or another dozen moments, immediately before or after it. And they'd all be not exactly the same, but whoo, boy, they'd be close.

      And the volume of images created a follow-up problem: who had the time to select from among them all? In the old days, the joke was that you'd go on vacation, shoot a half-dozen rolls of Kodachrome slide film, and then you'd come home, get 'em all developed, and sit your family and friends down for an evening travelogue...

      ...and those slide shows were dull as dishwater. The same sort of slack-jawed numbness you could see scattered around the audience back then, after viewing the second or third carousel of slides: I could feel it in my own face after viewing my early digital photo efforts. (It didn't help, really, that my first look at those multiple nearly-identical pictures necessarily had to be on a screen only a couple inches across. That really made them indistinguishable from one another!)

      So back to the "Why?," which for me is now more precisely, "Why, again?"

      Partly, it's a matter of self-discipline bringing about its own rewards: forcing myself, over and over, to take no more than maybe 3 or 4 photos of a given subject -- ideally, no more than ONE. For me, that has proved to be the thing without which photography loses all interest: a requirement that each moment be treated -- honored -- as its own, and not one of a succession of non-discrete moments.

    • Thanks for that, Chris! The images I've posted on Instagram (and SmugMug, heh) are all by me.

      I may be shooting myself in the foot, but just cannot bring myself to get neurotic about misuse of my images by others; nominally, certainly at SmugMug and at my own blog, I make a point of saying these are protected under a particular variation of the Creative Commons license. Mostly, though, I just think of the images as giving back to the universe some of what it's given me.

      (Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe the whole issue of licensing and copyrighting image use is probably covered somewhere on Cake. Have to look for it!)