Why Photography?

Photography is my chosen art. Obviously I wouldn’t continue doing it unless I loved it. But why? Why photography?


I’ll be honest. As a modern art form, there are negative aspects to photography. I’m talking about people’s view of it, not what I believe of it. And I’m not making a pun about photographic negatives. Many “serious” artists and critics view it as a lesser art, if art at all. After all, it is too easy. Just point your camera at something and take a picture. Where is the art?

The critics view photography as a mechanical art. Where the camera does the work and the photographer just holds the camera and pushes a button. How can it be “Art”, with a capital A, if it is fast and easy?

Billions of people are taking trillions of pictures every day. So it is considered a “common” craft. Just for selfies. But those critics discount the difficulty of doing something special in a field that is so crowded. Millions of books are written, but we still celebrate the relatively few authors who creates a standout book.

And photography can be reproduced pretty easily. You can get a stack of prints made at Walmart for a few bucks. This, too, devalues it in many people’s estimation.

And it’s getting to where your AI chatbot can make a fairly realistic picture. Is there any photography anymore? Or painting, for that matter?

Alternate view

But let’s examine some of those statements. I’m a firm believer that something is not correct just because people say it, especially if it is “experts” talking.

It is true that trillions of photos are taken every year. Very few of them are considered art, even by the people taking them. They are for utilitarian purposes, mostly selfies to post on social media. Of the ones whose makers consider them to be art, most are, well, forgettable. In this crowded field where the majority of people on the planet have a camera and take pictures, it is extremely difficult to take a memorable one. It takes a lot of skill and vision and technique and luck to make one of the exceptional ones.

And the fact that they can be reproduced easily should not be a factor, except for top collectors. The ability to make prints is actually democratizing. And a great art print is a very different thing than a cheap drug store copy. The materials and ink and care that goes into an art print sets it apart. If you have seen and handled one you have experienced the quality factor. A great print can be shown on your wall the rest of your life and be passed down to your heirs.

Even painters very often have prints of their works for sale. And they usually request a significant price for them. Does that make their prints not art?

It’s what I can do

I said I was being honest. I long ago discovered I have little talent or patience for drawing or painting, and sculpting is too slow and expensive for me. Does that mean I’m not an artist? Absolutely not. I found areas I have an inclination for.

I originally latched onto photography as a creative outlet to my highly logical, left-brained Engineering career. Intuitively I knew I had to have a balance. It served it’s purpose, even though I wasn’t very good at it.

But being somewhat obsessive and a perfectionist, I later pushed myself to learn and understand why I considered myself mediocre. So I improved my knowledge and education and technique. I learned about design and composition and lighting and editing. And I moved beyond just straight representational images of big landscape scenes and even pushed myself into uncomfortable areas like abstract and surreal.

So when I retired, I was eager to go full time into art as a creative activity. I do not regret it. It has been a great move for me and I feel I have grown rapidly. I would have gotten frustrated and quit if I had tried to force myself into doing art I was not suited for.

Fast moving

A joy to me in photography is that it is relatively fast moving. Move, see, compose, shoot. I get into a flow and can spend hours creating. And likewise in post processing. Unlike some photographers, I like it. Working with the images on the computer is another important part of the creative process of photography. I can edit for hours and not even realize what time it is.

This pace and rhythm of photography is part of what works for me. An important component of my creative energy. I know myself enough to know I would not be happy spending weeks working on a painting, to then have to set it aside and not touch it again.

My images are much more malleable. Even after “finishing” one I can get a new idea and revisit it, maybe alter it, maybe create a new work based on it. What I shoot is raw material. The elements emerge, combine, re-emerge and get re-imagined in a very fluid way. I love this.


This immediacy of photography also enables one of the other things I love about it. I can do it anywhere, almost any time. Day or night; walking around town; looking out an airplane window; winter or summer; in the rain or snow or fog; alone or with other people.

If most painters see a scene they want to paint, what do they do? Take a picture. They use that to work up sketches to define their image. I skip directly to the end. My “sketch” may well be the finished image. I’ve done 20 interesting images before they finish a sketch.

I never have to worry about what pallets of colors I have with me. Did I bring a large enough blank canvas? Do I have the right grades of pencils with me? Are they sharp? Don’t care. I can take a crisp, detailed shot of a rusty truck and turn around and take a time exposure of a stream. The camera is a powerful tool that lets me express my art in a variety of ways. But I am the artist and only I determine what I want to accomplish.

Element of reality

Another aspect of photography that is unique and significant to me is that photography contains elements of reality. The sensor records the scene in front of it as imaged by the camera lens, to the extent I allow it. That is, I may blur it or overexpose it or underexpose it. That is an artistic choice. But I am working with a capture of reality.

Photography is unlike any other art in this respect. To me, there is something honest in that. That, even if I composite or heavily edit or alter the colors or tones to create a completely different scene, still, the component parts are pieces of reality.

I enjoy images of mine that are straight captures of a real scene and I enjoy the ones that are created scenes that do not exist. Both contain reality. One much more directly than the other.

I don’t use Photoshop as a blank canvas to paint imaginary scenes on. I have no problem with those who do that. It is another good talent. But I don’t. Everything I create is built from pieces of reality. In my weird value system, it wouldn’t be photography if it did not contain actual elements captured by a camera.

Easy to reproduce

I love that after editing an image and thinking it is almost ready, I can make a test print on my printer in my studio. In a few minutes. A print on paper is very different from an image on screen. Most of us are only used to seeing images on screens.

But a well done print on high quality paper is an entirely different thing. It becomes a physical object with presence. Our relationship with it is different. We hold it and look at it differently. We feel the texture and the forms and colors of the image are seen in a new way. A print changes our perception.

And this is just a test print. Usually it will have to be edited more and reworked is some ways to eliminate problems we did not notice until it was on paper. After a few cycles I now know how to print this image. This next one that comes out of the printer is one I can be proud of. We eagerly show it off, because it expresses our intent, what we saw and felt when we captured the image. It has become a physical piece of art. And I can push a button and make another one for you. Does this devalue the medium? Not to me. I think that is fantastic.

This is a unique feature of photography. I love it.

Photography is a versatile, fast moving, high quality art form. It has advantages and disadvantages over other types of media. But that is true whenever you compare one type to another. It is the perfect art form for me. I hope I have given you a clear picture of why photography for me.

Today’s image

A busy airport at night is a wonderland of lights and shapes and movement. If you are that nerd who gets his camera out and shoots out the window during takeoffs and landings. I am. I love the colors and abstract forms. 🙂

It also illustrates one advantage of photography I discuss in other places. The ability to record time. Not just a still instant, but movement over a period of time if we wish.

This is one of those scenes you seldom see painted. We cannot see this directly with our eye. The painter would have to take the picture then paint it. But is that different from taking a photograph and making a print?

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