These words of Dorothea Lange get to the core of the reason why I photograph things. Looking is one thing; seeing is something else altogether.
These days with digital cameras it’s so easy to take and share images – just look at Facebook, Instagram and Google. Why does the world need any more?
What the world doesn’t have is my photographs. Or at least, it didn’t.
I prefer to create images that reflect how I felt at the time I took the picture. Clearly, there is much that is visual but it’s not the full story. On good days taking photographs is a bit like meditation, and I try to produce images that reflect that state of mind.
If my images coincide with the rules of any particular photography game, well and good, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Equally, if someone wants to misinterpret my pictures as a representation of a visual state of affairs, and judge them accordingly that’s not my problem!
After years of taking and looking at photographs, I have changed the way I see things. I notice more. I appreciate different types of light on things. I spot connections, shapes, contrasts, colours, proportions far more and better than I ever did before I took up photography.
I was never any good at drawing and painting. Enthusiastic yes, good no. Photography provides me with the means to make images of the world without having to get a pencil out and try to draw it. I have learnt ways of getting creative without being traditionally “artistic”.
Finally, photography for me is a form of meditation. I’m accustomed to the equipment I use. I could almost use it with my eyes shut … It doesn’t get in between me and the world out there. I can just concentrate on looking without worrying about the technicalities of the camera.
Photography enables me to show other people how I see things. I hope it shows them how they could see things too. That’s not to say they should see things the same way as me. But if you recognise something in my pictures that’s great. I enjoy the opportunities it gives me for offering alternative viewpoints.
People who know me recognise I am somewhat competitive. Having decided photography is something I enjoy doing, I find myself setting out to create pictures as well as other people do. But someone else cannot create the images I create: they can’t reflect my world for me.
Sometimes looking at other people’s work is depressing – why didn’t I see that? But then that’s what other people say they think when they see my work, so I call that a score draw.
Part of the enjoyment in photography for me is the guilty pleasure associated with handling and manipulating complex pieces of modern technology. There is a level of miniaturisation and high function that makes cameras and lenses totally desirable for the boy in all of us. The interplay of focus, aperture, ISO and shutter speed all of which have to be controlled by making a gadget work to your requirements is extremely seductive for certain people, me included.
I have always enjoyed learning and mastering complex skills, especially those that take significant time. Physical skills such as rock climbing and telemark skiing. More technical skills in computing. Photography provides the opportunities to become competent in an activity that is intellectual, physical and aesthetic all at the same time. Right in my sweet spot of desirable activities.
The complex sequences involved in turning reflected light into compelling imagery, from seeing something all the way through to producing a picture to show other people I find really satisfying. Would I feel the same way if the process was simple?
If all I had to do to create a photo was to point my phone at a subject, press a button and choose a filter, would I still find it as interesting? The results would be similar in many cases. Just because something is difficult to achieve does not automatically add value to the outcome.
In many ways, the complications are actually a benefit. They slow me down, in a good way, and give me time to think about what I’m doing and why. I get the space to make sure I’m seeing properly.
Does that make me a photographer?
And does it matter?
I enjoy taking intriguing photographs and sharing them with people. What more does there need to be?