Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is the purpose of photography?

My friend Matthew takes wonderful pictures. You can see some examples here or here.

Most photographs serve to preserve memories for those who are in the pictures. However, they have little value for people outside of them. I think that role for pictures has expanded in the last decade with the advent of cheap digital cameras which require no film and free social publishing of photos. There is a whole genre of facebook party photos taken by women of friends with drinks.

What I like about Matthew's photos is that they have value for anyone. You didn't "have to be there" in order to see the beauty in them. This quality is probably a mark of any good photography.

I have pondered taking a photography class myself over the summer. I have always taken a passing interest in taking good pictures, and I go out of my way to try and give my posts here a fitting photograph, but I have neither the equipment or the training for the kind of results I would desire. Hopefully I have a good many years ahead of me, and I would like to chronicle them in a way which has as much value as possible.

Before undertaking such an investment, I have wanted to make sure it is worth the cost of time and money to do so. Lord knows there are enough other disciplines and hobbies to which I like to devote my time. In doing so I have pondered exactly what sort of value good photography has.

Is the value that of conferring the appearance of meaning, when in fact meaning might or might not exist? I can certainly see photography being used in this way, and if it is so then I have little interest in pursuing it.

Is the value that of "capturing" an object, of conveying the intangible facets of its character through its appearance? In this case the work of the photographer is similar to that of the naturalist, cataloging objective and intrinsic meaning. When I think of photography like this I think of The Daily Nice.

I got really excited when I thought of a third possibility, that the purpose of photography is to communicate, to show the world as the photographer sees it. In this case, the primary meaning in a photograph is found at least as much in the eye behind the lens as in anything captured through it. It is not a statement merely of what exists, but of what is seen and how it is seen. The meaning resides between what is seen and who is seeing.

I suspect photography can be any of those three things, and that good photography is a mix of the second conception, the objective, and the third conception, the subjective. I would like to have a family someday. The idea of chronicling wife and children through different stages is quite appealing to me, and much the more so if in so doing I can chronicle my journey in seeing them.

Most of that is just speculation, though. How possible is it really to take another into one's frame of reference? To those who have experience in photography, I welcome your insight.

1 comment:

RXH said...

Have you read Ways of Seeing? It's my favorite book and sooo good. From this post, I think you'll like it too!