Every once in a while, someone asks me why I spend my time looking at the world through a viewfinder. I’ve even heard comments like, “It’s not like it’s really art, right?” What’s interesting is that explaining what drives me to do what I do isn’t as easy as it sounds.
It isn’t that I don’t have an answer; I actually have many and therein lies the conundrum. Photography has come to mean many things to me over the years. I can go “all existential” with an explanation or give a definitive – and perhaps dry – lecture. I’m hoping to find a happy medium here, so I hope you’ll bear with me while I explain what photography means to me.
What Photography Means to Me – In the Beginning
I think it’s important to explain that I started delving into this photography thing many moons ago. A good reference point would be my first “real” camera: a Minolta XG-9. I was living and working in a remote location in Wyoming at the time.
Before long, I had become a nuisance to my family, friends and coworkers who knew that my camera went everywhere with me and no person, place or thing was safe from the lens. A coworker and friend helped me build my first darkroom and I was soon creating my own black and white prints as well as developing slide film. I still have every strip of film and all the slides from those days.
My reasons for including that boring little bit of history are:
1) To show that I’ve had a long time to ponder my answers and
2) To explain that photography immediately became an obsession. It still is.
The Evolution of the Obsession
I signed up as the local reporter for the company magazine and covered our parties, softball games, kids’ school programs and the like. I even managed to have a few of my images printed on the cover. (Yes, I still have those articles and the covers, too.)
I would end up spending 20 years in Wyoming, capturing some of the most photogenic landscapes and wildlife in the USA. I visited Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks regularly. More importantly, I explored the back roads of the state and its neighbors, Montana and Colorado.
I later moved to the West Coast and discovered new kinds of beauty there.
As a writer, I soon found that my photographs helped me convey the emotional impact of the things I wrote about. I found that I could also submit my slides to supplement my articles and earn some bonus payments. During this period, the meaning of photography evolved to include a means of communication.
The Digital Revolution (and Devolution)
Eventually, I found myself with my first digital camera in hand. I chose “the first true 4 megapixel camera,” the Olympus E-10. For the benefit of those readers that didn’t experience the digital imaging revolution, let me simply say that the transition wasn’t an easy one for some of us.
I clung to my film SLR for years.
In some ways, photography devolved during the early digital days. It simply wasn’t possible to create images with the quality we were accustomed to with film. On the other hand, we now had instant gratification!
We also had the Internet, which I’d discovered long before. I was already generating much of my income via that magical new medium.
As digital imaging technologies improved and expanded, we saw the stock photo industry grow. At the same time, the market for fine art photography (a.k.a wall art) began to wane as everyone became a photographer. Then came social media and blogs and digital magazines and – you know the rest of the story.
While the photo industry went through its growing pains, mine were similar. In time, I accepted the inevitable and today I’m happy with my digital gear. Through it all, I’ve found that the original meaning of photography hasn’t changed significantly.
Fast forward to today. I’m sitting here at one of my multiple, networked computers that share an always-on, high-speed internet connection. Next to me are 2 DSLR cameras, an APS-C model and a 22+ megapixel, full frame along with a small arsenal of lenses that they can share. Every piece of equipment is capable of things I wouldn’t have dreamed possible “back in the day”.
My film has been replaced by memory cards. My darkroom consists of software that works miracles in a mere fraction of the time I used to spend developing, enlarging, burning, dodging, cropping and so on. I can create images optimized for digital display or with the resolution required to print a billboard.
I can process those images right here at my desk and deliver them digitally to my customer or a print shop anywhere around the world. No waiting. No fuss. No mess.
I’ve shot weddings, portraits, street photos, real estate and architecture, along with the nature and wildlife work that is my first and best love. I’ve learned to love digital photography. As I’ve evolved, one thing has remained constant – the meaning of photography.
The Answer (Finally)
Photography has been and will always be a way for me to connect with nature, the rest of the world and most importantly, myself. It gives me reason to explore. It gets me up in the morning to shoot the sunrise and keeps me up at night exploring the stars. It can even take me into deep space!
Best of all, photography provides me with a way to share those adventures with the rest of the world in ways I can’t accomplish with words. In my considerable years, I’ve learned and re-learned that my passion for photography is fueled by one thing:
Capturing those images that put a viewer there, with me, in those moments has always been the real reward.
To me, the meaning of photography will always be the attempt to capture the emotion, vitality and spectacle of my own experiences and evoke them in the people that view my images.
What Does Photography Mean to You?
Now it’s your turn:
What does photography mean to you and what drew you to it? What keeps you motivated to go out and shoot?
Share it with us in the comments below.