on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Photography and The Wonder of Life

A Meditation on Why I Photograph

Guy Tal

Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US. Website Flickr



What we need is more sense of the wonder of life and less of this business of making a picture. ~Robert Henri

By asking photographers why they photograph I learned that many are unable to clearly articulate their reasons; and among those who do cite such reasons, I am often intrigued by the diversity of answers. This is to be expected, after all, we are different people with different interests, circumstances and sensibilities. However, on more than one occasion, after a photographer has passionately explained their reasons for practising photography, they also conceded discrepancies between their stated motivations—what they hoped to gain from photography—and their lack of satisfaction with the actual experience of making photographs.

Susan Sontag wrote, “It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along. Photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had.” And, “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”

Indeed, this seems to be a common mode of work for many photographers today: not to pursue a desired experience for its own sake and to be moved by such experience to create expressive photographs, but rather to produce photographs as a means of socialising (“I’ve been to such-and-such-place, too,” “I have this brand of camera, too,” “I like using my smartphone, too,” etc.), competing with, or impressing others. 

This seems to be a common mode of work for many photographers today: not to pursue a desired experience for its own sake and to be moved by such experience to create expressive photographs, but rather to produce photographs as a means of socialising

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Years ago, among other factors, the recognition that such discrepancies existed in my work, and conceding that whatever excuses I could come up with to justify them ultimately amounted to denial and rationalisation, changed my life in ways far exceeding my approach to photography. 



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