For a while now I’ve been pondering the question of why I take photos. I don’t mean snapshots, I mean the thousands I’ve taken of birds or flowers or landscapes or museums. The ones that are pre-planned or taken as part of a day out. The ones that take hours to process in full, and may, if I’m lucky, get one or two views on Flickr. Surely there are more interesting and productive things to do with my time?
Well, I’ve come up with a few points of what photography means for me and why this (self-indulgent) hobby is important in general.
First, why do I take photos?
1. To make the ordinary seem extraordinary
Photography provides an opportunity to take a mundane object and make it look special. It also gives an excuse for looking at the world through a fresh set of eyes rather than walking blindly through the everyday. It forces us to actually look.
2. To remember
I have a terrible memory. Photography records things better than I ever could and means that I can look back on events with (near) perfect detail.
3. Creativity / beauty / art. Instantly.
I’ve tried learning to draw and I’m not bad, but it’s hard work and very slow. With photography, you get instant feedback and an instant result. Okay, so it may take hours to achieve and need processing afterwards, but it feels more immediate than other art forms.
4. Expanding knowledge.
You have to understand the subjects you photograph. For example, I’ve learned more about birds since I started photographing them than in the 29 years prior. Partly, this is by identifying the species after photographing them, but also partly by observing the birds, their behaviour and researching their habitats, so I can be in the right place at the right time.
Photography, and indeed art in general, often seems self indulgent to me. A bit of a waste of time, when there are other, more useful things potentially to do. But aside from simply being nice to look at, photos can have a positive impact on the world around us in many ways. For example:
2. Inform us (medical, space, Google street view, weather, traffic, wanted posters, etc).
3. Help give a voice to the overlooked.
The purpose of this self-examination has been to think about what I’m doing, why and what I’m going to do next. It was triggered by realising that I have only a matter of weeks to apply for a higher education course before the tuition fees become prohibitive. I’ve not been in any rush to get back into studying, but I always figured I would do one day. After some research and consideration I have enrolled on a degree course in photography at the Open College of Arts. It’s a distance learning course, with, I think seven modules, each taking around a year to complete. The first module, ‘The Art of Photography’ is designed to get everyone up to speed on the subject and is a good standalone module, so even if I decide not to continue afterwards I will still have gotten something out of it. It’s also possible to gain a certificate or diploma if I decide not to go for the entire degree, which I have to admit at this stage is fairly likely.
I’m hoping this will provide me with more of an aim when taking pictures and mean that I can achieve something with this hobby.