why do we take pictures?

a question posed by Russell Davies that makes a whole lot of readers become philosophical, myself included. My reply was:

to mark time.

and prove we exist, by evidence of our unique perception (in that one place, at that one time, from that one choice, that was ours).
I just recently picked-up my camera again with interest, after spending a year groping around in the tiny display of my cell phone camera, after happening on something too elegant in its visual eloquence to be just passed by. There is such a human need to record. As if the details, from our perspective, mattered so much or at all. And, of course, it's not just the photography--- but the words and the sculpture, and blogs and twitter.

There is something about photography, though, that feels utterly unique. Some have argued photography isn't an art at all--- merely a recording, rather than an act of creation. It's the photographer's disassociation with the subject, juxtaposed with their involvement--proven by their need to record--that is striking. Is it that one needs to create a connection with the subject of interest, to which they have not directly contributed (usually) or is this a demonstration of egoism, our need for self-manifestation that transforms an individual perspective into a universal example, for others to experience through us? Do we need to make ourselves the conduit for others in order to validate ourselves or are we attempting to bridge the gap between our hapless perception and the external object which has leapt out and grabbed our interest? Are we turning the 'found' into the 'made'? Or making our self-perception into a suddenly canonized page of history?

I walk about seeing beautiful, interesting, humorous and/or disturbing things and can't help but feel an obligation---rather than just a desire--to record them for memory, and not just my own. Obligation is just the word: an impulse to share what strikes the mind's eye. Yes, for my own mental hoarding, but also because the ephemera has more value to offer the world than time has offered it allowance to provide. It deserves more. And 'we' (humanity) deserve more of it (though we haven't the ability to know about it, until the photographer captures a slice of it). Were all random images and scattered, flashing moments that might make us smile or remember our own humanity brought together into a collection to share (hello, flickr), it would be like an index of happiness, sadness, digital cognitive chips of our emotions. A short-hand for both our human genius and our human need to record, to have, to share.

Anyway, my moblog is no reflection of these thoughts. Clearly, I've had one too many mimosas (or too few). I recommend visiting my Flickr page to swiftly wipe-out any suspicion in your mind I might be a former film or photography student revisiting the old days. These are just my unschooled ramblings. But, since we're on the topic, here is one of my favorite photography sites: JPG Magazine, and one of my favorite photographers: Sebastiao Salgado.


Chris said...

My idea of art (including photography [and literature!]) is that its purpose is to distill the creator's experience into a form that other humans can consume and make a part of their experiences. Therefore, I totally understand when you say that you feel the "obligation" to record things. Art (in the broad sense that includes all communication) is the only way that we can offer others a glimpse of the sensory input that we have experienced; and we offer that glimpse through forming new, representative entities available for experience by an audience.

Peter Dolan said...

Roland Barthes had some things to say on the topic in Camera Lucida, primitively boiled down to the question of mortality. From the Wikipedia excerpt:

Barthes explained that a picture is not so much a solid representation of ‘what is’ as ‘what was’ and therefore ‘what has ceased to be’. It does not make reality solid but serves as a reminder of the world’s inconstant and ever changing state.