Earlier this week, I received an email from a mailing list of a website for music production. It was about a blog posting on their site with the simple but inviting title: ‘Why do you make music?‘.
The article comes up with some very good points, but truth be told: I don’t make music at all yet. Trying to learn, but that’s another story. Obviously though, it made me wonder: why do I make photos?
The writer of the blog post lists 4 reasons that may be worth exploring for yourself; for those who didn’t read it:
- I enjoy the process
- I want to express myself
- Collective joy (I’d call it sharing)
- Social approbation (in today’s world, I’d call it collecting likes on Instagram 😉 )
And of course there can be million other reasons, but I do think these 4 cover a lot, and most other reasons may actually fit these 4 buckets.
It’s a good exercise to think this through for yourself, whether you’re a hobbyist or pro. Whether you’re novice or experienced. What drives you, and what do you hope to get out of it?
Diving into my reasons
If I go over it for myself, using the above 4 reasons, on first reaction I’d say the first two apply to me. The latter two, not as much.
The first point, well, read any other posting on this site and it’ll explain itself. I like making photos, I like finding gear that helps me create photos I might like. Processing digital files, printing – like that too. Sometimes I like to think of other ways of presenting my photos too.
The last listed reason, I just want to keep short: no, I don’t care how others feel about me making photos. There is not much to go into here; you’d need to know somebody personally to be able to judge this point. So you just have to take my word on this one: I don’t care much what others think about me. Let alone what they think about me holding a camera and using it.
Mulling it over
The second and third reason though are more complex. The third reason, as a first reaction I’d say it doesn’t apply. But then why does this site exist? Why does this post itself exist? Who do I have a number of photo galleries here, if not to share them with an audience?
Do I feel that any of this has to be shared? In other words: would I feel I’d be failing to do something if I didn’t have this site? No.
Sharing is not the reason I make photos. I don’t make them for you, I make them for myself. I don’t mind sharing my photos. Likewise I don’t mind sharing my opinion, observations, experiences and thoughts on photography and photos. But also there, arguably I do this for my own benefit more than yours. Sorry, readers (if you ever got this far anyway).
It’s the second reason I struggle with most.
In a way, it sounds so easy: express yourself. And to some it may come really easy. Take what already inside yourself, and go from there.
Yet, I don’t believe it to be this simple. Part because by education (and cultural values probably) we’re prone to reasoning. Rationalizing our thoughts and ideas. Keep emotions a bit at bay, or at least keep them a bit within limits. But this limits the purity of that real personal expression already.
Another part is simply knowing yourself. What is it inside yourself that you want to express? What do you have to tell?
And then there is a question of expressing yourself for who? It circles back to sharing above. Who are you trying to express yourself to?
Last but not least: if you look at the result, is it there? Do those ideas on what you’re trying to express show in the images? Or do the images tell you something about yourself that is revealing to yourself?
The photos in this post aren’t very specific, but none of them were made for reasons like a holiday, family gathering or something like that. These are images made because I felt like making them. What are they trying to express, and what are they trying to tell me? And what then is personal about it?
Honestly, no idea. I cannot answer those questions. Or at least, I have no clear defined idea and definitely no ideas I’d be willing to share either.
Not the point either: it’s about the mental exercise. Go back to your own images, and think about why you made them. What makes you decide to make a photo? And what photos did you not make?
The questions matter more than the answers. For the little I learnt over time, the time I spent thinking over these questions helped me understand my own process more. It allowed me to trust my gut instinct more, and be more radical about doing things the way I do them. I learnt to work from instinct far more. It allowed me to build up a more solid self-confidence about my photos.
This self-confidence isn’t me thinking my photos are good as such. If somebody tells me they’re rubbish, I will listen as I can still learn from any of you. The self-confidence means I am aware of what I am doing, and that I have a sense of direction about why I make photos.
Is that expressing myself? No, but I hope it helps me getting there.
Frankly, me exploring my own head is of little value to you. It is to me, though, and that’s why I am sharing it 😉
That said, the exercise is worth doing, and worth repeating every now and then. Things change with time, and so do we and our ideas. None of this is about photos you make on your holiday, or for photos you make during a family party or something like that. But if you – like me – like making photos for the sake of making photos, then giving some thought about what makes you do so, will only help you sharpening up your own internal creative process.
And while all that just happens inside your head, I am convinced it will end up showing in your photos.