Why Do You Take Photographs?

by Miserere


     I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs.
    –Garry Winogrand

Garry Winogrand was a street photographer known for his depictions of American Life in the 60s. We can all draw our own conclusions as to what Mr Winogrand meant when he made this comment, but my own interpretation is that he felt photography was a looking glass that offered its own particular vision of the World. By extension, this means he didn’t see the camera as an instrument that reproduced or represented reality, but maybe as an entity with a mind of its own that interpreted reality in its own way. As such, Mr Winogrand’s mission when photographing was clear: To be the vehicle that transported his camera from scene to scene (and changed the film when needed). He was then curious to see what it was the camera had observed and reproduced.

I’m sure Mr Winogrand was more in control of his camera than my wild mental meandering might imply, but I do think he believed what was etched on his film was something different to what he had seen with his own eyes. His curiosity to capture these differences is what drove him to photograph. I think we can all relate to this at some level.

Humans display a natural propensity for curiosity. Observe a baby looking around wide-eyed at the world beyond the confines of the crib—it is out of curiosity. The reason we have microscopes or telescopes is because somebody one day wondered what things would look like magnified; we probably consume hallucinogenic drugs just to see what the world looks like from an altered perspective.

“Curiosity drives Humankind, yet it seems it is memories that drives the vast majority of photographers.”

Curiosity drives Humankind, yet it seems it is memories that drives the vast majority of photographers. I believe there are two types of photography: that which is art, and that which is frozen memory. The former does not necessarily concern itself with reality, while the latter insists on reproducing it as closely as possible. The objectives of a fashion photographer shooting the cover of Vogue are far removed from those of a father photographing his daughter’s 5th birthday. What moves each of these photographers to pick up a camera must therefore be different.

I have been struggling with the question that is the title of this piece for a few weeks now, and I am no closer to an answer than I was when I began. Despite my clearly left-brain oriented life, there are certain things I do not wonder about and simply do. Photography is one of them. Enticing the Light was an attempt at organising those thoughts or intuitions which could be put into words, those which mattered to Photography (with a capital P), with the hope that they may become clearer to me and to others, that we may all emerge better photographers through this process.

I have believed that knowing why I wanted to take photographs would help me make better images, and yet I’m starting to wonder whether it’s not the process instead of the end result that really matters to me. I don’t hide my images (there are plenty of them in various websites), and I spent time working on each one (both behind the camera and in front of the computer) to make them look like they did in my mind; but once a photograph is finished I lose interest in it and start thinking about the next one.

I am now starting to think that the reason I like taking photographs is because I like taking photographs. While this may sound like a circular argument, or worse still, that I’m losing my mind, I think it does make sense if you spend a moment thinking about it.

If I love the process so much, can taking better care of, and paying more attention to, the process help me make better photographs? That is something I can only discover on my own. And I intend to.

Now please ask yourself: Why do you take photographs?


Despite my opening quote and subsequent paragraphs, I believe Mr Winogrand and I may share a common reason for liking photography: When he died in 1984 he left behind over 2,500 rolls of unprocessed film…maybe he wasn’t so curious about his photographs after all! But he certainly enjoyed making them.


5 Responses to “Why Do You Take Photographs?”

  1. “I am now starting to think that the reason I like taking photographs is because I like taking photographs.”

    Heh, and the reason you’re thinking about it is because you like thinking… 🙂

    My own answer to the question “Why do you take photographs?” is generally “Well, why not…?”. The photographs themselves aren’t all that interesting to me (although this depends very much on my mood…), but taking them, tweaking them and showing them can be, as can any subsequent reactions to the pics.

    TBH, I suspect the honest answer for many people these days is “Because it gives me something to write/chat about on the net” 🙂

  2. This answer for me comes rather easy actually. I take pictures because It relaxes me. It is good therapy… One thing, I do not often talk about is that I am sick. If I could leave 2500 rolls of films or sd cards, I would be happy because i had the time to shoot that much.

    95% of my pictures will never be seen by anyone but me. I will often go back and look at pictures that are years old to remind me of where I have been and what I have done. It allows me to spend time with my son and teach him to be a man.

    While I have spent allot of money on photography the past few years, I actually do use it all… I would rather spend my time using it than measurabating it. I would rather use a lens than pixel peep it….I would rather shoot my Jpegs and post them, instead of spending time in photo shop.

  3. I share the philosophy in this article. Images are either frozen memory or taken in the name of art. Funnily, art is defined as expression of oneself. So anything taken to represent a view could be simply called art.

    I think your point is very clear that photography is not a photocopying exercise but an opportunity to create imagery to the photographer’s liking.

    Great post and this is something to ponder for a very long time

  4. Here’s the big answer: “The world is too interesting to not photograph.” Here’s the little answer: “I like the process of taking photos – finding a subject, framing, then the feel of the shutter being released.” (I sometimes just click away without any film in the camera.)


  5. I’ve given this question a fair amount of thought over the past year or so–particularly as I’ve committed increasing amounts of time and money to photography.

    It’s familiar territory in a way: over the years I’ve pondered the same question in relation to fishing–my other time- and money-absorbing enthusiasm–and I think these activities engage me for similar reasons.

    One of the attractions of fishing is that it gives me an excuse to visit some of the most beautiful places on earth. Photography allows me to capture that beauty–so I can share it, certainly, but also as a way of confirming that beauty to myself.

    Perhaps at a deeper level, the camera and fly-rod are instruments which focus my attention and enable me to see and understand the world in ways which would otherwise escape me. With the fly-rod in hand, I don’t just see the stream, I am moved to understand its dynamics and ecology. With camera in hand, I see light and objects in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

    In both cases, I’ve come to understand surprising and wonderful things–just by paying attention. But beyond the learning, I think the fly-rod and camera represent ways of establishing a somehow more meaningful relationship with the world around me.

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