Recently things have made me question why I take photos. Despite our protestations that we take photos to make art the real reason is not so grand. When I first picked up a camera to take pictures in my own right I had no idea that photography was even considered as an art form. When I was eighteen and about to go travelling with my girlfriend and my parents gave me a Kodak Instamatic to take with me. So my first reason to take pictures was to record the things I’d see and be able to show them to people who could not be there. When I returned home and got the films developed and printed I was both thrilled and disappointed at the same time. Thrilled because of the experiences I was able to share and disappointed because they could have been so much better. This prompted me to buy a succession of better cameras and learn a lot more about photography, but my primary focus (excuse the pun) was to document the things that I felt were important. This is by no means unique to me and it is the reason why the majority of the world’s photographs are taken.
“Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees”
A photograph is a memory in physical form (if it is printed that is). Memories can be fleeting, my earliest ones are very indistinct ghostly impressions in my thoughts. Other memories such as my wedding day are more concrete and fully formed and consistent. Memories can be happy refuges where we can enter a contented almost blissful state when we allow ourselves to revel in them. Other memories are darker and more sinister and they are often repressed as it is too painful to dwell on them only for them to surface at inopportune times. Photos are aides-mémoires, we take them to supplement our view and experiences of the world and share them with others. Gerry Badger in his book The Genius Of Photography describes how the picture itself instantly becomes the subject of memory and provides the certainty that something actually existed. A photograph is capable of transporting back in time or to a far-flung location or establishing contact with someone long since dead. We can experience events that we never lived through, I can vividly recall the Normandy D-Day landings in 1944 even though I was not even born then thanks to the visceral photos of Robert Capa. Photography creates and shapes stories, it helps defines the morals and context of the world we live in. I have in my possession photos of family members whom I have never met, in fact some were only a faint memory for my parents and grandparents. From the photos I can learn about them and discover things that we have in common although we are separated by time and geography. The photos provide me a context for my life and a point of reference.
By all means continue to make photographic art, but do not forget to take record shots of your life and the lives of those who are nearest and dearest to you. Also let others take photographs of you doing what you enjoy and being with who you love as these photos are far more important than any art we may create, they will form part of your families collective memory and allow both you and them to live on.
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