Why do we take photographs


A cynic once said to me that your great grandchildren won’t care about anything you’ve achieved in your life, your memories, stories, or anything: you’ll be lost to history. It was said during a conversation about photography and other “hobbies” such as painting and pottery, and the speaker was nihilistic in his assessment of the “wasting time” creating art that nobody cares about. Another statement was “Just what the world needs - another sunset photograph”. The speaker was previously a professional photographer!
That’s a pretty cold and demotivating point of view, albeit logically correct for most of us.
What it fails to recognise, however, is that we don’t live for the future. We live for the now, for the enjoyment of being, the possibilities, the adventure, the relationships we build, and the simple pleasures that make us human. Nihilism isn’t my thing and, thankfully, nor is it for most people: we are emotional beings, not machines.
The speaker used to be a car photographer, a successful one at that. He never diversified when the income stream dried up, and never really had any “personal” photographic interests. So his answer to the opening title would probably be “For the money”.
This is not to say those who give up professionally are not avid photographers - far from it. Photography is a tough business, like most of the arts, and failure to make a living in the arts is often not the fault of the artistic output, but many, many other factors: ask any actor, painter, sculptor, or musician!
Almost without exception, every professional photographer started out as an amateur/beginner and, at some point, decided they could, and, importantly, wanted to, earn money from their hobby and passion, but it usually begins with the first camera, the first excitement at capturing the image they wanted, and then, often, the feedback from their peers.
My experience is that there are a lot of amatuer photographers that produce images they could very well monetise, but are not motivated to do so because their professional life is fulfilled by their job and photography is an outlet for their creative side. Only when the professional job becomes less satisfying, the potential to switch to their hobby becomes more attractive. I read various articles where many a startup has happened during the pandemic with people finding more time and motivation to try and make a business out of their existing hobby.
I often wondered why I still dabble in photography. There are better photographers out there, and I’ve never really found my niche. My collection is not focused, with a bias towards nature and scenery. His statement “Just what the world needs - another sunset photograph” hit home a bit.
My answer to the title question is that it’s my sunset, my memory, my achievement to capture moments that mean something to me, and share them with others close to me. Photography, for me, is definitely about the desire to create that I have; from my story writing to my acting. It’s a very personal thing and I rarely “share” my photos, even though some are online.
I suspect many are in the same position, with the added social benefits from local or online communities.
When writing this article, I searched for why we have hobbies and found this summary from Kettering University online. I believe photography covers pretty much all of the following from the article:
  • Physical: Not so much, but nature photography has an element of physical activity.
  • Mental and emotional: Certainly, and photography is listed.
  • Social and interpersonal: As mentioned above, this applies if you attend local groups or frequent online forums to engage with others.
  • Creativity: A given, I would suggest.
  • Self improvement: I would also put photography under this heading.
So, we mostly take photographs because hobbies are important and at some point our personal experience and inclinations stirred us to photography. We take photographs because it fills a social/emotional need particular to our personality and life. To capture and relive our memories.
Our great grandchildren may not care about our photographs, we may just be adding another sunset to the millions already taken, but they are our images, our experiences, our adventures, our emotional and interpersonal connections, and nothing matters more, nor should matter more, than our enjoyment of our chosen hobby and its results; and if we can make money doing it, then that’s wonderful too!
My photographic world is small, personal, unspecific, but enjoyable. I’ve tried macro, studio, portrait, street, landscape, and birding. Each has their own learning curve and gear, and trying them forces an appreciation of the dedication of those that do them well.
Why do you take photographs? What’s your motivation? What’s your photographic focus, if you pardon the pun?
Feel free to share and link you your images.