I just wondered recently, why I take photos, why I put so much time and effort into it, and why I see myself continuing to do so. Not in a negative way – I just wonder what’s behind it.
Forgive the self-indulgence, but maybe these thoughts will apply to you too if you’re into photography or another creative field.
It’s strange, but having picked up a dSLR over 6 years ago now, things have escalated ever since, and I’ve rarely stopped to question why. I think partly what’s prompted me to ponder my motives is a feeling that the standard of my photos has plateaued somewhat in the last year. I like learning things and improving at things, and it feels like my photography isn’t improving much these days. I look at the photos coming out of competitions, and from accomplished photographers online, and by comparison, my photos fall well short of the quality I aspire to. This is only natural, I’m sure. I guess most creative people never reach the standard they want to, and almost all will reach this point where things are not progressing as quickly as they used to. Anyway, as I consider where to take my photography next, it begs the question; Why? – What’s driving it? Why am I doing it? And what am I expecting to get from it?
WHAT’S DRIVING IT?
When I was younger I used to make things and draw things. I was constantly on the lookout for things to make, and materials to use for making things. I got quite good at drawing animals, based on photos of pets or natural history wildlife photos, though never really good enough for my liking. As I got older, I got into woodwork and design, alongside the drawing. Then I discovered computers and programming languages, and started writing computer games and animations. I guess my point is that for as long as I can remember, I’ve had an in-built creative drive, that is constantly looking for an outlet.
After a holiday to California and the Grand Canyon, with a compact camera to record the sights and memories, I started to think that maybe I’d like to try more photography. The idea of coming back from my travels with some pictures for the wall was an early driver, but I soon started to get more creative, and I wanted to push the boundaries of what photography could do; experimenting with different processing and in-camera techniques. After I had been sharing photos on Flickr for a while, I wanted a central portfolio of my best photos, so I made myself a website. A while after that, I setup a Facebook page for friends and family who want to see my photos, but don’t use Flickr. And I joined twitter to keep in touch with the growing network of friendly photographers I’d bumped into online. I wanted to add a voice to the photos on my website, so I started writing this blog. All these social outlets are a daunting prospect to an introvert, but it seems a shame to make pictures and then hide them away to myself, so I try to put them out there. There have been several camera upgrades along the way, and a conveyor belt of lenses bought and sold, until I find myself in my current situation; waking up and realising how deep I’m in.
WHY AM I DOING IT?
I like that I’m producing something with a positive end product. It’s a visual medium, that can look good on the wall, and perk up an interior space.
I like spending time out in nature, with wildlife or landscapes to enjoy. Similarly, I enjoy travel, and photography is a great excuse to visit amazing places.
It’s nice to think that I’m maybe, even slightly, raising awareness, interest, or respect for wildlife and wild places. I don’t believe for a moment that I can really make a difference here, but I can tell myself I tried.
I like the three stages: Planning, taking photos, and processing the photos. Each stage is its own discipline, and provides a little wiggle-room to change the feel of the image slightly.
I like the digital aspect. I like that photos can be processed any number of times, in different ways, which lends itself to experimentation. I value the opportunity to back-up my work, start again, or just ‘undo’ previous changes. Real life, physical art like sculpture doesn’t have that. Once you’ve lopped off that arm, you’ve really ruined the sculpture. But with digital art, there’s always the chance to undo the change, or make a copy to play with.
I like the fact that like a good game, it takes minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. I enjoy learning things, so the endless bottomless pit of technical, artistic, and creative factors at play in photography offer enough potential to keep me developing for years.
WHAT AM I EXPECTING TO GET FROM IT?
I guess in theory, what I would hope to get from it would be the satisfaction of making art. Being happy with the pictures I produce, and seeing them used to brighten up the places around us. But I know myself better than that. I’ll never reach the standards I set for myself, and I know I’ll never be satisfied with what I produce.
So what do I really expect to get from it? Nothing. There’s no end game here. Nothing but frustration dotted with the hint of occasionally satisfying moments, and the continuing feeling that the journey will never end. It’s just about occupying my mind, and serving that creative urge that keeps me going. If I ever feel I’ve reached the standard I want to, I think I’d struggle to continue on with it. Things have to keep moving forward, and I want to have something to always be working on.
ULTIMATELY, THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION “WHY PHOTOGRAPHY?” WOULD BE “WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?”
Maybe just settle down in a comfortable home, embrace the rat race, and live out my years on auto-pilot?
Thinking about what photography has become for me, I do sometimes feel like I’m sat in the carriage of a runaway train. But the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about – I have to have a creative interest. To keep creating things. To keep learning something.
I’ve thought a lot about it, and it basically comes down to this: I like a project. Maybe one day I’ll find something I prefer to photography. But it’d just be a different medium, with the same common features. Whether you’re painting, sculpting, animating, writing, the lure is the same; To produce something new and original, and better than the stuff we made this time last year. Maybe one day producing ‘art‘.