There are times, now and again, when I wonder what the point is in taking photographs. I mean, there’s all the expense of buying equipment and maintaining it, there are all the hours spent editing and refining the images until they’re just right. Then, what to do with them? Post them on Flickr. Make a book or a magazine out of them: take the time to put it all together and spend your extra money on an issue, be proud of it when it arrives, then stick it on a shelf alongside all the other books you never really look at. Or you could even go for a really harrowing experience, and submit your photos for inclusion and sale through iStockPhoto.com.
When you define yourself as a photographer or a creator, it tends to lead what you do every day. By defining yourself and promoting yourself in a certain way, you come to fulfil the definition rather than concentrate on living your life. Being “a photographer” means that leaving your camera behind for a day out takes on significance. Going out for a walk or visiting a place means that you automatically start looking for photographs all the time, instead of letting the images come to you. Even on the most unpromising day, when it’s physically uncomfortable to be outside, you try your hardest to find something – anything – to make fit into a good photograph. This becomes even more true when you have a following of some kind, as you come to feel that “your audience” will be disappointed if you don’t share another good image with them.
I have this feeling from time to time, not only in terms of photography, but also in terms of writing or blogging. I feel that I have to say something, just because I knew that there are a few people out there who I feel are waiting for it. When I get this feeling, I step back and re-assess what I do every day. I leave my laptop behind when I go to work for the day, and with it, all my photographs waiting to be reviewed and edited. I step back from them and leave them for a while, before returning to them with fresher eyes. I reach for a book instead of a camera bag when I head for the train, and bury myself in a story, instead of focusing on my own. I stop seeking inspiration and I let the creative processors cool down for a while. Then, when I pick up the camera or open the image editing programme, I can really begin afresh with a clearer view of what is interesting.
By leaving images alone for a while – sometimes for a long while – they become more interesting. They become more valuable and almost more detailled. I see pictures every day and everywhere I turn: at home on the wall, on my computer desktops, on the online portals where I spend time every day. I deliberately left the large number of photographs I took during my honeymoon to one side, after posting the better of them to Flickr, so that I could return to them with a fresh, reminiscent view. Looking at them now is like walking into a series of rooms, each one full of happy memories. Doing this, and experiencing these feelings, is a reminder that photography isn’t necessarily about documenting events or places for other people. (Though it is important to me that people I am close to see how the world looks through my eyes.) Taking photographs is to create a visual record of my life, both for me and for the future.
Each photograph I take reminds me of a certain place or moment. A visual diary, sometimes annotated and sometimes not. Where an unknown viewer may just see a gloomy view of a river and moor, I see a damp, grey, cold, misty day on which I took my wife through one of my favourite parts of Britain, where we seldom saw other people, on which we climbed steep mountain pass roads in our car, fussed dogs, aah-ed at sheep and walked across grassy hillsides with waterproof jackets crackling. By reviewing photos taken during the day in our hotel that evening, I was satisfied with the results. By reviewing them now, I can reminisce and feel those warm, happy feelings once more, as well as being proud of the good photographs I’ve taken.
In short: being a photographer doesn’t mean that you have to take photographs all the time. It means that you _can_ take photographs as and when you want to; that you have the ability to capture what happens to you so that you can see the moments again in the future.