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Thread: Why Do We Photograph?

  1. #1
    Will Whitaker's Avatar
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    Why Do We Photograph?

    After kicking the tin can of photography down the road for the last 40 years, I've recently begun to really question what it's all about. Sound familiar?

    This summer I participated in a group show. I resurrected some older prints and even printed a favorite image in a size more commensurate with the subject matter. So I really dove into it (or so I thought).

    The experience was excellent. I felt for once in my life like I was doing something that I was meant to be doing. By the way, this was my first ever experience displaying my work publicly. And it was a kick. The reception early on was very positive. Many people I had invited showed up and I felt like I was getting support all around.

    Alas, the show did not generate any sales. (Did I really expect any?....) I admit that setting prices was very new and somewhat awkward territory for me. Maybe I was too high. But my feeling was that it was better to be too high than too low, the latter suggesting, perhaps, that the artist did not really value his own work. And I didn't want that.

    But not once in the two months the show was up did anyone even suggest that they'd like to have a print or that such & such a print might look nice in their foyer or bedroom or living room...

    Notable to me was a sibling who came to the reception (at my request). Now this individual has been pushing me for a decade or more to pursue my photography.
    "You have such a God-given talent!.... You really should make this your life's work!...." and various such comments. But did she buy a print? Hell, NO! And not even when I suggested a "family discount". Ha! And this individual knows that any money whatsoever from a print sale would be a tremendous help to me financially. Sheesh!!
    So, really what I got out of the show was a very expensive bill for matting and framing.

    So what drives you folks out there in forum-land? Is the pursuit of photography nothing more than an excuse to play with expensive toys?

    I know it's normal to become discouraged at times. But this is ridiculous! I'm having thoughts of a large estate sale. Or maybe just a large dumpster!
    My age is showing here as I realize that the time is approaching when working with a camera won't be possible because of one issue or another.

    Or maybe I need to keep at it just for personal gratification because, well, it IS quite gratifying to produce a print that conveys well what I feel inside. And if I'm the only one who likes it enough to invest in it, then that's the way it is and I shouldn't feel bad about that.

    I'd be interested in thoughts and experiences of others.

  2. #2
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    You might read "Art and Fear" for a little more on the topic. Not answers so much as provoking discussion. While listening to Bjork's "Human Behavior"

    What sells could mean it is marketed well rather than simply photographic talent executed nicely. If you look at it from the perspective of a gallery visitor, they may visit many galleries in a day or evening, see hundreds of pieces of high quality artwork, and do this repeatedly month after month and there is still a small chance they'd buy something. They do appreciate it, or they wouldn't have come out. If they were intent on buying it, they could have bargained with you; and your higher price will make everyone happier when the bargaining succeeds. I'm better at selling electronics than photos. I would starve selling photos.

    Once in a while I have exhibited something too. Very little has sold. It does have some social benefits mixing with other creative people. I met a customer for the first time the other day at my computer shop who remembered my photo like it was yesterday from the Maine Photography Show probably three years ago. We had a good chat about photography while I setup lightroom for him on his new computer. But I don't really make photos to put in shows. Some people do, and that's fine. I put some on the Internet, print a few, show even fewer, hang a few up at home. The process is a creative thing I must do. My life is out of balance if I can't get some creativity in, and I can't paint or draw, but I do enjoy photography. For another creative person it might be woodworking or music or writing.

  3. #3

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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    I think I photograph to communicate with myself. My professional life has encompassed geological analysis and computer system administration, both very process-oriented and demanding an analytical mind-set. I do more (and maybe better) photography when I am relaxed. This suggests to me that my creative side can be in charge, instead of supporting the analytical side. Have I exhibited and sold work? Rarely, and only if encouraged. I certainly don't do it for the new toys - I just bought my second new camera. The first was in 1975 8-)

    Photography is a hobby for me - I don't think I could survive using it to make a living (read that whichever way you like!).

  4. #4

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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    Walter Rosenblum once shared with me that his best friend, Paul Strand, whose broad recognition and financial reward for his artistry work came quite late in life, had told him then, "You just have to live long enough." Walter--and I might add, Ansel Adams, himself, among others--had a similar experience. Adams, of course, became a very wealthy man, which neither of the other two did, but again, late in life, given the prodigious output of his long prior career.

    Dustin Hoffman was once asked, in an Q&A with acting students, why he did what he did. He replied (my paraphrase), "Take away all the fame, all the financial success, and I would be out there doing summer stock [community theater--PSU] and whatever I could get. This is what I am."

    For me, coming back to serious B&W photography, as time allows, after about 13 years of supporting the family with a "real job" (which I still do), it is a passion I have had since my teens, long ago. I'm not going back to my commercial work; just natural light, film portraiture, large and medium format, mostly. I love it, and I pinch pennies to buy supplies.
    Philip U.

    Sine scientia ars nihil est.

  5. #5
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    Why do we breathe?

  6. #6

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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    I photograph out of a personal drive to express myself through art. I pursue art as a continuing path of personal development. Each photograph has a beginning and an end. At the end, I get the satisfaction of seeing my completed work. I do not expect my work to appeal to everyone, or even anyone. If I were trying to sell my work, I would be producing art for them and not for myself. My day job involves product photography. Photography on my own time as personal development and as an artistic pursuit is much more satisfying.

  7. #7
    Jac@stafford.net's Avatar
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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    My photographic imagery is the least important part of my life. Infrequently I find work of a photographer that changes my life-view to the better; such works rise above the art of poetry.

  8. #8

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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    Hi Will, good question.

    I posed a similar question ten years ago on this forum, "Who Is Your Audience?". (It's still in the archive) I think some of the answers to that question shed light on your query.

    You have probably already answered the question with your concluding comment on gratification. For sure, "keep at it."

  9. #9
    Unwitting Thread Killer Ari's Avatar
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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    You only live once; gotta cram it all in there while you can.

    And you answered your own question:
    Quote Originally Posted by Will Whitaker View Post
    well, it IS quite gratifying to produce a print that conveys well what I feel inside. And if I'm the only one who likes it enough to invest in it, then that's the way it is and I shouldn't feel bad about that.

  10. #10
    Les
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    Re: Why Do We Photograph?

    My answer would be somewhat what Jeff wrote. There were times when I thought about shooting for "them" (art fairs, galeries, etc) and it didn't take me long to realize that this wouldn't reflect my art taste....so that idea went quickly out the window.

    Les

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