Why Do We Photograph?


This is a question that not many of us ask ourselves, as we’re all caught up with a slightly different query… what should we photograph? Through the years, the pressing of the camera’s shutter has become such a common act that it’s hardly surprising that we rarely ever think about why we even do it. What is it that provokes some of us to diligently take up the camera, every single day, and photograph? Are we subconsciously creating proofs that confirm our roles as eyewitnesses of a particular moment or occurrence? Or simply put, do we photograph to create memories, some more tragic than the other. Or is there something deeper and more complex at play that compels us to make pictures?

I have to admit that when I first started shooting, it was purely out of the need to preserve important moments… to have something to remind me of the good times. But this changed later, when I found myself being drawn towards non-human subjects. It began with beach horses. I was so taken in by their beauty and their gentleness, qualities, which at the time, were lacking in my own life. I always felt invigorated and calm in their presence. I also found myself drawn to dilapidated objects. Now that I think about it, it was all part of my progression. In these solitary objects, I was able to unearth a kind of reassurance… that the chaos within me would subside someday.

After a long, arduous struggle, I finally managed to detach myself from what had been troubling me for years. I thought that maybe now that the pain had subsided, that my eyes would eventually stop looking for my inanimate friends. It didn’t happen. If anything, I became stronger in my pursuit of scouring the area for them. Something had changed. I was now driven by this need to uncover the beautiful nuances in their crudity. Every crack filled with dirt excited me. A chaotic intersection of wires made me soar. There’s so much beauty in the abandoned.

Our photographs may not always be dictated by our need to create memories. In fact, at times, we may think that there is no reason or purpose for a particular image. Yet, as soon as we see the moment approaching, why do we pull out our cameras or phones to record it? It’s probably because a lot of what we do is a result of how our past experiences have shaped us. Remember, a photograph is made up of far more elements than just you and the camera. Unless you start introspecting and asking relevant questions, these elements will continue to remain elusive to you. “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” These words, by Ansel Adams, are as true as ever.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Better Photography.