Photographic Purpose?

I often find myself asking the following questions – Why do we take photographs? What is the purpose? I could even go as far to say – What is the point?

At one extreme a photographer who is a full time professional has to earn a living from his craft to pay the mortgage. He or she has no choice in the matter – they have to be making images to satisfy their paying clients or their audience. The only choice they have is to whether or not an alternative career might be more financially lucrative, even if that new role is not as rewarding. Fortunately I do not fall into this category.

At the other extreme everyone who has a smartphone will probably take an extraordinary number of images and post them on social media just because they can. Seemingly they want to share their every living moment with their family, friends, followers and the world at large. Fortunately I don’t fall into this category either.

Somewhere between these two extremes there are a huge swathe of people who take photographs for other reasons. They might want to take pictures of their family, particularly of their children as they grow up or elderly relatives so they are never forgotten. They want to record their holidays and bring back memories of places visited and events witnessed. In many ways there is no better reason to pick up a camera and press the shutter.

The fourth and final group are those hobby photographers who take photographs simply because they have a desire to capture and record the world in which we live. They may wish to document what they see or tell a story through their images; create beautiful pictures of the landscape or relish the chase of capturing in their camera a wild animal or rare bird. I could go on as there are so many categories and all have their own merits. Essentially people like to photograph a subject which is of interest them.

I could go on to ask -‘ But what are they hoping to achieve? Do they simply want to share their work with people they know or to a wider audience through social media, as a member of a camera club perhaps or even staging a public exhibition. Do they wish to make some money from their hobby or are they simply seeking recognition? This could take the form of appreciative comments, a photographic distinction or possibly selling their work for people to enjoy on their wall at home. As human beings we all like to be appreciated for what we do and who we are, so this will be a primary motivation. However it can be dispiriting when things don’t go as well as expected. A negative outcome can actively discourage a person from taking and sharing new work.

Serious hobbyists can also find a great deal of pleasure or sometimes frustration, in acquiring and using their camera equipment, lenses and various accessories, not to mention all the software available to process their digital files. If they wish, they can create endless permutations of the same image seeking the ‘perfect look’ to their final picture. But who are they trying to please? Their followers on Facebook or Instagram, the judge in a camera club competition or complete strangers who may be passing by an exhibition of their work. Or should they ignore all of the above and make work that satisfies no one but themselves?

There is no better exponent of this form of photography than the work of Vivian Maier, the now famous street photographer. She took around 100,000 negatives and slides which were only discovered after her death. Only then were they shared to the wider world. A truly fantastic photographer who seemingly only documented what she saw because she wanted to do so for herself and no one else. I urge you take a look at the website dedicated to her work.

Throughout this entry I could have substituted ‘I’ for ‘they’ as I have been asking these very questions of myself. The very reason for this entry was in fact to do just that, explore my own approach and reasons for picture making.

Why do I take photographs? What’s my purpose? What do I want to achieve?

The answer became much clearer to me a few days ago. My wife and I were walking along the coastline with our dog in tow. Conscious of the fact that I had taken very few photographs for many months my wife persuaded me to carry a small pocket camera (a Sony RX100 if you want to know) and if the opportunity arose I could take some pictures.

I did exactly that and this set of images is the result. I did not take them thinking I would want to share them with the world, enter any in a competition, let alone print and frame one for an exhibition. They were composed, taken and processed to please no one but myself. Selfish perhaps but 100% true.

Most of all I had fun being out with my camera. I was totally absorbed for the best part of an hour as we wandered up and down the coastline, in the fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of normal life. I even enjoyed downloading them to my computer and processing them afterwards. Having seen the results I then looked forward to writing this entry on my blog – the first since August last year! On average I used to post an entry once a week so what happened to the past five months or more? Well without wishing to bore you but life got in the way. Hopefully the weeks and months ahead will be more productive.

You will have your own answer to the question of ‘Photographic Purpose’ but my answer is a very straightforward one –

“To be absorbed in the process of creating images. To have fun, pleasure and enjoyment. Whilst doing so, to truly experience life, capture memories and through the glass of a lens convey my own feelings about what I see. Anything else is a bonus.

Thanks for looking and reading and I hope to be back here again very soon.

11 Responses to “Photographic Purpose?”

  1. Vicki

    Look forward to see you blogging and sharing your B & W images again very soon. I enjoyed viewing them very much in the past 🙂


  2. JayHorton

    Hi Alan,
    Once again you have excelled with these images. Congratulations. I take your advice wholeheartedly: “ be absorbed in the process of creating images”.

    One question: these shots taken at the beginning or the end of the day?

    Best regards, Jay


  3. Paul Stone

    If you have been away from photography since last August then you have not lost the knack of shooting great B&W images. It is great to see you posting photos again.
    I was once told “the main reason to carry out photography as a hobbyist is, and should always be, to have fun. Once the fun disappears you should move on to another hobby. If you do not then your standard of images will always drop.” I guess that this can apply to any hobby.


    • alan frost

      Thanks Paul. Its good to be posting again. I couldn’t agree more with what you have said but I have no intention of switching to another hobby. Just needed to recharge the ‘creative batteries’!


  4. dianaed14

    Like these images – so simple and yet powerful. I think that taking photographs makes one more aware of shapes and light and shade – in black and white that is


    • alan frost

      Thank you Diana. I agree – b&w highlights the shape, form and texture of a composition but the most important ingredient of all is light. I enjoyed being back out with a camera again.



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