Clearly, if you ask ten photographers this question, you’ll probably get fifteen answers. The fact is, people photograph for different reasons during different seasons of their life. Some people take snapshots of family and friends, others are professional wedding photographers. Still others, like myself, are still discovering the answer.
I realize that there are perhaps three reasons I photograph things. The first of which, I will share today.
I am from Singapore, around 10,000 miles away from Baltimore, wherein I am based now. Growing up, I have often envied people whose parents attended school overseas (it’s weird, I know). Heck, I envied friends who had tales of their exploits all over the globe in college. See, I have never been well-to-do, and until a few years ago, I never had more than $1k in my bank account, so traveling has always been out of reach (not that I yearned to travel, but rather to experience a different culture). Now that I am here in the US, I want to crystallize the essence of my experience, so that I can share it with my kids in the future.
I am also prone to being nostalgic, and I imagine I will think back wistfully on these dreadful days in about ten years. The fortnightly trips to Giant; daily walk from my apartment to the lab; Saturday mornings spent in Starbucks or Barnes and Noble along Saint Paul Street. These little mundane rituals/details need to be preserved in one form or another. My wife, despite having way better memory than I do, is not particularly interested in preserving these things, so it’s up to me to perform this duty.
Recently I’ve had the chance to look back at some of my old photos. It is fascinating how friends from 2 years ago can fade almost completely from your memory, only to be resuscitated by a mere glance, as if the photos were taken yesterday. Friends whom I have missed – the people whom God chose to bring into our lives only to remove again – live on elsewhere, and also in my memories. This only serves to reinforce the need to capture as much of what constitutes life here as I can.
Looking back at those old photos, I also can’t help noticing how pedestrian they look. I mean, they may be technically competent, but there is nothing inherently interesting in the pictures. I also realize that all to often the pictures that I take are more like high-quality snapshots, than actual, well composed photographs. The spray and pray approach that I used to employ has given way to a more considered and meditative mode. Sometimes I spend an hour on the streets without making a single exposure, but that also helps me sieve through my digital folders (which is something I never do with my older pictures from early 2009).
This awareness of the quality of my pictures leads me (and us) to the next reason for taking photographs. Till next time.