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Why photography?

October 20, 2016  •  6 Comments

When asked to deliver a one hour presentation on photography to a local group of pensioners and superannuants (few, if any, of whom were into photography), I wondered, "How can I do that?" I've presented on the subject many times—at photography clubs and conventions—to committed photographer audiences. My usual approach just wouldn't cut it with people who may not know an aperture from a keyhole or who relate to lenses as bifocals. As for shutters, I knew theirs would close if I started waxing technically.

Then it came to me, "Yes...I'll just tell them what it is about photography that makes me passionate about it". Why I regard photography not as my hobby but as a way of life. Perhaps it will encourage some to think about photography in a new way. And wouldn't it be wonderful if some were inspired to start their own journey.

It went well and I came away with an invitation to speak aain, next time to a Probus club. I plan to create an interactive podcast of my presentation in the future. In the meantime, here are the main takeaway points I made and some images to support them.


1. An outlet for creativity and expression

Photography is arguably the easiest art in which to become technically competent. Once that competence is mastered, the doors are open for devotees to express themselves through imagery. Not just pictures but pictures expressing ideas.

Note: Mouse over the images for more information.

Black signatureBlack signaturePalm print of a Mexican, the black-handed spider monkey 1/125th @ f4 & 600mm ISO 800 ®

2. It's a hybrid art form

Photography is a blend of science and art. I enjoy both sides of the union, but I explained to the audience that the science side (the technical stuff and the equipment) can become an Achilles heel. Many photographers spend more time thinking about, and spending money on, the toys than investing in their visual literacy—the intellectual development that is crucial to becoming an expressive photographer with a personal style.

Couch potatographer "Show us pictures"The Couch PotatographerOne who derives more enjoyment from playing with and comparing gear than making photographs. Generally lacking imagination and talent but well stocked up on ego and brand snobbery.

3. Photography involves problem solving

I could see people in the audience nodding when I said, "Use it or lose it." It's as simple as that; photography exercises my brain. Using a field trip with a friend and his gun dog as a case study, I explained the problems that I dealt with to produce the image below.

QuailburstQuailburstAn English pointer flushes stubble quail as a thunderstorm looms. This is an imagined scene.

​4. It gets me out

Some say that golf is a good walk spoiled. I could argue that photography makes a good walk memorable. Being out and about with a camera feeds my soul and my vision, exercising body and brain.

Look at that!Look at that!Filming "Welcome to The Backwash" for APSCON 2011.

5. It keeps me in

Even when I can't get out, photography gives me stimulating work to do. On a rainy Sunday I constructed the image below from images on file and stuff that I photographed at home that day.

Styx pinnacles nocturneStyx pinnacles nocturneAs homework for a special interest group in my photographic club, I started out doing some indoor (tabletop) photography on a wet Sunday.

6. I can share it

It's never been easier, and less taxing on an audience, to share one's work: personal websites; email; social media; forums. Digital imagery takes up no real-world space.

By comparison...I have a wood lathe that I received for my 40th birthday. I enjoyed using it to make wooden bowls, marveling at the signatures of various timbers. There are only so many wooden bowls you can give away before your friends and family say "Enough! Thanks, but no thanks."

What's the point of painting pictures if the public never gets to see them — Claude Monet

7. It makes me take notice

It goes with the territory—photographers see things that other people don't. It's as if you look at the world through virtual rectangular 'crop here' frames tattooed on the lenses of your eyes.

The quote below is perhaps my favourite. You bring your heart and soul into the seeing.

Looking is a gift, but seeing is a power — Jeff Berner

Question marksQuestion marksCopeton Waters State Park, NSW: In a sheltered cove on an overcast morning, the remains of a small shrub drowned decades before by the rising waters of the impoundment play against sharp rocks. The soft form of another tree in the background, exposed stones, and the gradually obscured sub-surface gravel complete an elegant composition. A neutral density filter was used to facilitate a four second exposure, blurring the reflections rippled by gentle waves. Musing that the skeletal tree is asking "why?"

8. Exploring images as words and words as images

I can combine my love of photography and writing. In the last two years I've been exploring haiga, the combination of photography and haiku poetry.

Repertoire seasonRepertoire seasonlyrebirds resound up up the slanted mist repertoire season ®

9. The challenge...

...of trying to make beautiful photographs of things rather than simply photographs of beautiful things. This is key. It's easy to make a photograph of a beautiful or spectacular thing: a spectacular sunset; a gorgeous flower. I see such things as works of God that are recorded by a camera. Is the photographer playing a substantive role in the creation of such imagery?

How about making photographs of things that most people regard as not beautiful, spectacular, novel, uplifting—and so on—and raising them above the banal?

To many the image on the right is just a dead bird. To me it has beauty because it's my tribute to the life and feats of an amazing seabird.

The final shoreThe final shoreWhy photograph a dead bird? It's not 'pretty'. Because it moves me. Because I'm in awe of the migratory feats of the shearwater....

10. The promise of photography...

I suppose this tenth reason is the big one. Providing I retain my sense of sight, some reasonable motor skills, and my mental faculties, I know that I will become a better photographer the longer I live. How many pastimes, hobbies, or pursuits in life can promise me that, plus the fulfilment and joy of being creative?

In my opinion, like good wine, photographers can improve with age because of these things: the natural wisdom of age; maturity of vision; and heightened visual literacy—things to be nurtured.

My best work is ahead of me. Always.




Thank you, Des, Brenda, Roy, Donna, and Giang. More power to each of you and your photography. "Seeing is a power". ®
Giang Duong(non-registered)
I'd like to echo Des' and Donna's comments. I am continually inspired by your creativity, eloquence in expressing your thoughts and wisdom, and your generous mentor role to many. I thoroughly read your "Why Photography?" post and I agree with Des, this should be a required reading for aspiring photographers. Thank you, Rob.
Donna Baldwin(non-registered)
I wonder what came first? Your eloquence in photography or eloquence in speech? I aspire to have both and, luckily, both can continue to be improved. Thanks for being part of my journey.
Roy Killen(non-registered)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Rob - inspirational!
Your audience must have been delighted. You're such an inspiration. I wonder how many people look at photos differently, and maybe a few will pick up a camera..
Best work ahead. Yes
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