Why I Photograph
Why do I take photos? The short answer is that I still find it exciting to try to capture what I see in this world. It’s playful, and it’s about discovery. When I take a photo, I want to say something, but I also feel completely free to fail. And as a writer, this is a good place to put yourself in, creatively.
Here are a couple of quotations which get at how I feel about the process:
“Photography gives you the opportunity to use your sensibility and everything you are to say something about and be part of the world around you. In this way, you might discover who you are, and with a little luck, you might discover something much larger than yourself.”
– Peter Lindbergh
“The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.”
– Susan Meiselas
“Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.”
– Paul Strand
Taking photographs, for me, has to do with recording how I see, and it’s a record of how I live. I don’t really overthink what I’m doing with photos, though. I like this next idea, that photos can be seen as “clocks for seeing.”
“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.”
― Roland Barthes from Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
My photos are those of an amateur, and this is something also that Barthes discusses in his book.
“Usually the amateur is defined as an immature state of the artist: someone who cannot – or will not – achieve the mastery of a profession. But in the field of photographic practice, it is the amateur, on the contrary, who is the assumption of the professional: for it is he who stands closer to the noeme of Photography.”
In an interesting blog post on Art and Archives, the word noeme is defined as “the essence of photography.”
Another quotation from Barthes:
“…the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly…”
And it’s interesting to think about the ways that we use photographs in our everyday lives, on social media, especially Instagram. Sharing photos with friends, family, a larger public. The private really has exploded since digital photography became so prevalent. We are trying to get at the essence of our lives. Who better than us to do so?
Even our failures, our imperfect compositions, the uneven light, say something about our lives that perhaps a professional photographer might not be able to capture. These are moments, our moments, our lives, and they say something about our time that we can’t necessarily parse completely right now. In photography, I completely embrace Barthes’ idea of the amateur and I think it’s an important enough thing to be. I hope to get at some of the essence of the private life.
As for this series of photographs? The red purse is one I’ve only used a few times, but was the inspiration for the bag in Rumi and the Red Handbag. I feel a bit conspicuous using it now :)
I started shooting just the flowers and the handbag, but began adding elements in hopes the image tells or hints at a bit of a story. Outside the frame you might imagine a woman getting ready to go out, somewhere lovely. You might imagine the scent of roses, some music playing in the background…