WHY DO PEOPLE PHOTOGRAPH?
Why do people photograph? Why do they spend money on expensive equipment and supplies, on photo holidays and on master classes?
For some it is a serious hobby that allows them to creatively express themselves; for others it is an escape, or perhaps a way to record their family, to make a visual record of their lives or to provide gifts for others. On a more basic level it provides an amount of admiration and status for their work and therefore for themselves and it may even be an unconscious expression of love. In listening to people talk about their photographs, often it seems as if they do not recognise the more profound needs it fulfils for them. Because of that and because they may have low expectations for their work, they often limit the scope, depth and beauty of what is possible. An emotionally truthful photograph shot on a poor quality mobile phone camera is more interesting than an emotionally empty large raw image shot on an expensive DSLR.
One day the brilliant Russian cellist and teacher Mstislav Rostropovich had a skilled student in his class. After the young man finished playing, he looked up at his master, expecting a critique and perhaps praise. Instead, silently Rostropovich handed him a finely inlaid box. He asked the student what he saw. The surprised young man appraised the jewelled inlay, the rich colours and the high gloss, looked at his master and said, “I see a beautiful decorated box”. Rostropovich agreed and then urged him to look inside the box. The young man, filled with expectation, tentatively opened it. Rostropovich asked, “Now what do you see?” The surprised young man replied, “Master, there is nothing inside”. “Yes” said Rostropovich, “that jewelled box with its external decorations and empty inside is just like your playing”.
What I see people photographing and presenting is often the outside of the box –inventive technique and super-real images but they seem empty because they are neither about the lives we share nor the problems we are concerned with. They are glorified snaps, postcard views, superficial images of loved ones, more candy coloured landscapes at dawn and fireworks at night that tell the rest of us nothing about real life we can’t witness ourselves. In short, they communicate very little about things that matter.
People should pursue what they think makes them happy, but for me as a viewer, I want my heart and mind to be fed with food for thought, beauty and truth, rather than with more shinny bling. I know I don’t represent the vast numbers of people who are concerned with making pictures - but for those who wish to find a way to connect what they love and care about to the pictures they make, this may be the right place decide to keep reading these essays.