Why Photography?

A friend asked me recently – why photography?

I struggled to answer, like to many questions that border on the abstract. It is like someone asking me why I like to write.

Today, while reading the Reuters Photographers Blog, I think I have the answer to some part of the question. There are various reasons to ‘why photography’.

But the one right now – because a picture does speak a thousand words. And when combined with another 100 written words, it becomes priceless. A photograph is a memory. Sometimes, faulty. But a memory, nevertheless.

Every person has a story to tell. Sometimes, the entire story can be conveyed in the angle of the photograph. Sometimes, it is a sheer lie.

There are photographs that are etched in our memories.

Sharbat Gula – Steve McCurry (if you can’t recollect the name, remember the girl with the captivating green eyes on NGC?)

The photo of a vulture watching a starving child – Kevin Carter. (He won an award and later killed himself. His suicide note is a topic for another day)

Those two photographs are perhaps the most vivid in my memory. But there were others along the way… William Beall’s photo “Faith and Confidence” that won the Pultizer in 1958. A simple photo of an American soldier bending to talk to a little boy. It is adorably cute, and considering the time, beautifully naïve.

Another one of my favorites was taken by a friend of mine. Not even a noted photographer – it was a photo of a bunch of monks, jumping a gate. The frivolity of the moment completely belied what one believes monks stood for. You expect them to be quiet, peaceful, serious. And we forget these monks are young boys too.

A photograph by itself perhaps is not as impressive. But when put in context with history, or a situation, it takes a whole new image.

People have often asked me about the images decorating my walls. It isn’t narcissism that makes me post only the photos I have taken. Each image has a memory, a relevance. Perhaps I needed to be reminded ‘why photography.’

I took up journalism years ago because I wanted to tell those million stories floating around in the world. I haven’t really done that much, though. And perhaps it was the frustration of being unable to do so that promoted the shift to photography. The ability to capture a million words, the absent look and the one moment which is almost invisible to the naked eye. The ability to tell a story.

79 thoughts on “Why Photography?

  1. Pingback: Why Photography?
  2. CONGRATULATIONS!!! You have been…FRESHLY PRESSED!!! I love your photographs so much!!! You totally deserved to be Freshly Pressed!!!


  3. That’s how I feel about writing, although I am not, by trade, a writer. The ability to humorously recount the key moments in your life is something I love doing…the ability to put your own spin on the events of your life makes you realize how much you cherish them.


  4. photos can be anything – stories, impressions, feelings, fairy tales or harsh reality, poetry or prose. photography doesn’t need words.

    this would be my short answer to ‘why photography’.


    1. I do so agree with anna. Without the images….words are not as affective….but put them all together and one has something most special. The best to all…Happy thoughts….Peggy Inez, Author & Storyteller.


  5. Lovely post. I have to totally agree with your sentiments about ….’why photography’. My camera lives in my hand and I chart my life by the photos I take.


  6. Hi,

    I had just logged in to my wordpress when your post popped up and captured my eye. Well I love to write and I have recently taken up photography (More seriously). Ur not the only one who has been encountered with such a question from people around you 🙂

    It is hard to explain to people how just taking a random photo is different then really taking a photograph or producing an image that has some meaning to it. Photography just like writing it self is an expressive medium which only few are able to master and a whole lot complicated though to most it seems simple. I enjoyed knowing some bits about you through this post and am glad to know I am not the only one out there.

    Keep shooting and all the best my freind 🙂 God Bless!


  7. Thanks for sharing this. I write and a year ago, I got heavily into photographing portraits. I LOVE it and wish I’d started it sooner.
    I now share both passions and it’s the best careers anyone can have


  8. Thank you for this short and sweet insightful read. I can absolutely relate to what you said–photography is such a powerful tool in documenting history.


  9. Wow, it occurred to me that i have never question why I do photography. I just do. I once told somebody my reason was that I had started at 7 years old and it was too late to find another hobby, but that isn’t true. I just have to do it.


  10. I have written a text similar to yours in my diary, but I haven’t published it yet. This blog post gave me another perspective, something to think about and incorporate into that text when finally publishing it.

    I have many ideas to speak about, but at times i don’t have the knowledge to present the idea, to transfer it from my mind to the paper. Although in my mind I have a clear picture of what I want to write about. It is the same for me when it comes to describing situations, nature…a picture speaks so much more, and at times i restrain from writing anything because i don’t want to ruin the impression a picture can leave on someone.

    Thanks for this blog post, and congrats on making it to the freshly pressed.


  11. I do agree, but to a more extreme degree, a picture is worth more than thousands of words!
    Having worked with children, three-years and up, for 40 years, one can learn from a picture! When a child cannot read, their eyes read for them. I was taught one “Talks to Teach”…”Listens to Learn”….and I also added in working with what I called my Baby-Class, “Looks to Learn”….A picture will assist in telling a story or sometimes tells the story! I use as many images as I can in the novels I compose. I feel pictures are especially important for the young reader. As an adult I also enjoy having pictures to further explain a plot within a story! I have an …”INCONCEIVABLE -IMAGINATION”…!!! I wish with all my heart and soul that I had the ability to draw and/or paint the images I have within my brain to coincide with the story and/or tale that I am writing, as I type each word. I can see it…I can actually see what I wish to express in image form, but I only have limited drawing ability. I have practiced and practiced drawing, to be able to express in pictures what I have the God given ability to express in words. In my first book…”THE GULLY”…I did all the images…as I could not talk any of my artist friends into expressing themselves. Thank goodness in my upcoming ….”BEYOND BELIEF”…one of my dear artist friends has come to my rescue with one of my hero’s and expressed herself with a remarkable image of the …The Watermelon Man….!!! My friend’s artistic name is ..”boni”…someday I feel you will hear and reconize her artistic talents. The Gully is available on Amazon and other book outlets. Beyond Belief will be available in December of 2010 on Amazon and other book outlets. NOW…YOU SEE WHY I AGREE WITH YOU!!! WHAT IS A STORY WITHOUT A PICTURE TO EXPRESS THE INTER FEELINGS OF WHAT ONE HAVE CHOSEN TO LIVE WITHIN THE MIND AND HEART Yes…the pictures shown made me wish to express myself in words. Peggy Inez, Author and Storyteller.


    1. I just wanted to re-comment on my previous such opinion concerning images and/or pictures…being worth a thousand words. I do still agree with that statement…but at that time I was finishing up my second novel in my series of six…based on ….THE SUMMER ADVENTURES OF MAGGIE SUE AND TERRY D…I still did not have a COVER IMAGE..and then my dear friend ….known as “boni” professionally sent me an image …imaginated and drawn with her extreme artistic talent. I was thrilled. She did my image of …THE WATERMELON MAN…It is perfect…the image is what I wanted to say to all about MR. JOE, THE WATERMELONMAN! How very grateful I am to her. It now does grace the cover of my newest addition to my series…BEYOND BELIEF…! I did sketch all the inside images…except for the faces and my husband did most of those…as for some reason…I am not a face artist. I really am not an artist. I am an Author! I love attempting to draw. I love writing! I love dreaming! I love happiness! I love life! Which I feel comes across in my first novel…THE GULLY…and now my second…BEYOND BELIEF…!!! I want anything that I take the time to read to keep my attention…! How is that accomplished? In my opinion, just being ….. thrilling, loving, humorous, adventurous to the point, one cannot figure out what is going to happen next and simply cannot put that book down until it is finished….but yet….ending in a satisfactory way for the young reader and family reading enjoyment. That is the type of fiction I enjoy reading and that is the type of fiction …..I COMPOSE!!! I had written the first comment sometime ago and I just wanted to correct the fact to those dedicated readers of my novels…that I did not do the image of ….THE WATERMELON MAN…! I wish I had that artistic talent within the hands and obviously beautiful soul of …my dear friend…..boni!!!! So nice visiting with all again….I NOW WELCOME ALL TO MY UPDATED WEBSITE AT….www.peggyinezauthor.com. My books are available on Amazon.com and most book outlets. Maybe I will hear from some of you through Facebook, Twitter, Authors Den.com, and others areas that are being brought up-to-date for …BEYOND BELIEF…THAT SHOULD BE ON THE MARKET IN EARLY APRIL! It is always so nice getting to know other authors and readers. Happy thoughts to all….Peggy Inez, Author & Storyteller.


  12. I’ve just got back from my ‘camera club’ and it amused me that when I fired up the PC yours is the first post I saw.

    I take pictures because I don’t have the words. I can’t put emotion into words…I like the fact that you can connect with a photograph, even someone else’s photograph…you can interpret it your way, whereas with words that is not always the case. Photography for me is very personal and often people don’t want to hear what you have to say, but more often they will stop, look and linger a while over a photograph. It’s a priceless form of communication.

    Nice post! 🙂


  13. A lovely simple message. I fully agree, the combination of a meaningful image with some carefully chosen words is one of the most powerful (for the viewer) and enjoyable (for the creator) ways of telling a story. I like your recognition that a photograph can be a faulty memory (partial, incomplete, biased…)- and yet as long as that’s recognized, that too has value and power. I love many many things about photography generally and photojournalism specifically. It enables me to take my loved ones on a journey with me when I travel (which was my motivation for starting), and yes, I love the story-telling aspect. I have heard people criticise photography for ‘funnelling’ an experience through a lens- i.e. you run the risk of either only remembering the bit that you photographed, or of only experiencing things from behind your viewfinder. However for me I find the opposite is true. I find that holding a camera in my hands encourages and forces me to explore an event or a location from many angles, to dig down and find the story behind what I might have seen had I stood as a static observer from the sidelines, to engross myself in what’s happening, and thus to enrich my own experience of place and time. Thanks for your thought-provoking post.



    1. One of my fav photographers Dorothea Langea said this – “a camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”

      You ask questions you probably wouldn’t when you are shooting something. You notice more. Of course, I totally hate people on vacations too busy clicking everything in sight and not pausing to absorb the energy of the places. But I guess that is the difference between a tourist and a traveler.


  14. Your post gave me something to ponder on about my own photography. Totally agree-the right picture with the right words does tell a unique story about life on this planet.

    Hope you publish those million stories out there as time permits. Take care!


  15. Congrats on making Freshly Pressed!

    I’m a (VERY) amateur photographer myself, but it seems sometimes that others just don’t get “it”. Photography is SO very important to me, not only as a work of art, but as a way to capture how a moment in time existed.

    In an almost un-related, but very relevant matter, I had to fight with my future in-laws to justify the amount of money we are spending on a wedding photographer. Their suggestion of getting a less expensive (and therefore less experienced and not someone who “got my style”) photographer to capture one of the most important days of my life infuriated me. In my opinion, there is no limit to the amount of money that should be spent on photography.

    I would buy a photograph over a painting any day. No matter which was more truthful, there is something that connects with me – the fact that someone, at that exact moment, saw exactly that moment through a lens.


  16. Hey Leia,
    My first thought when I saw the title of your blog was “Why not photography?” :). For me I see pretty things and take them home and when the time comes I make a photograph with them. Other times it is visiting new spots and taking photos of interesting things to me. As for you hanging your own photos, good for you. If you have the skill then make your own. I still have to get prints of my stuff. The one photo I do have up that is not mine is Robert Doisneau’s Kiss at L’hotel de Ville. I know this was created but I don’t care because it was captured beautifully and I’m sure it has happened naturally many times between many people. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


    1. I just checked out the photo you mentioned and yeah, it is interesting. I guess even the story that goes behind the creation of something makes it all interesting… I saw a similar series done by Reuters – people in intimate moments at public places. Not quite PDA but just… close. It is definitely moving.


  17. I had asked same Q when I picked up photography years back. in last two years, I did some serious photography.. in that process I discovered why. Eevey photograph has a story to tell if you look and understand it. Most of us use photography to capture and enjoy memories. However, you will appreciate why you took the photographs years later. I cliked some pics of my grandmoms and few years later, they are the some of the only pics remaining. I understood the value of those pics after they are no more.

    Good to read your blog and bucket list. I am from India, but now in US for some time. One of my bucket list item is to photograph different tribes in India and show their culture to the world. Esp since I am from East India, I will be happy to provide any help you need. Hope will complete it in next few years. Check out my blog: http://www.abinashpadhi.wordpress.com


    1. Hi Abhinash,
      Would definitely love to visit East India sometime. That’s a part of our country that has so been neglected… or forgotten. W
      Why is it that we love photographing the old and the young and not the inbetween?


  18. I’m blasé about photography. How many times the statue of liberty, the eiffel tower, the golden gate have been photographed? A look at Flickr gives the impression that everything has been photographed. It seems to me that internet killed some of the magic of walking around with your camera.


    1. I have to agree… particularly monuments and architecture have been done a million times and posted a million times. But maybe there is that one angle, one shot that hasn’t been done. And with better technology, maybe we will be able to get that too.
      Photography, most often, has personal meaning. Else, we could just print out that photo of Eiffel Tower instead of the slightly shaky, blurred shot you got.
      The problem I have with digital photography is that manipulation of a photo becomes so easy. Everything in fantasy and everything in unreal… and even though they all look great, they seem uniform in their surreal-ness.


  19. It’s like the quote from Can’t Hardly Wait “These are memories frozen in time, people!” Yes, I appreciate the artwork in photos taken by other people, but for the most part I only have my own work hanging in my home. (No, I’m not a professional or anything.) Each photo reminds me so clearly of that fun weekend away with friends, or even the nice day I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood, that it still evokes in me the same emotions I felt at the time the picture was taken. Out of context, these are simple pictures of people smiling or a purple flower, but to me each one really does tell a story. I like how you said “Every person has a story to tell. Sometimes, the entire story can be conveyed in the angle of the photograph.”


    1. Hi… I’ve not seen the movie (will look it up now). I guess it is a way of making time stop… I’m thinking I should bring in other images into my room, but without the story behind it, a photo seems a little blank. Of course, the ones I mentioned are exceptions… I guess someday when I can afford one of those prints…


  20. Great post! I, myself, am quite intrigued with photography and its cousin, video (motion photography). After all, it’s what I studied in college. Another aspect of photography I love is how, as the photographer, what can be revealed in a single image. What has been overlooked while the image was taken.


    1. Hi Nick… I like video but it requires more attention and concentration to pay attention to the pieces. Sometimes it is easier to watch something frame by frame. As you said, those little pieces that we overlook and are so visible in a photograph…


  21. Your post was very engaging. The photos you linked were very poignant as well. I felt so moved by them. And I agree 100% with you about photography. Keep up the good posts!


  22. Photography because a photograph preserves a moment in time. It doesn’t have to be an award-winning photograph, or one that will pull on your heartstrings. Even a photograph of a group of friends together captures the essence of that moment, keeping it frozen, so you can look back on the photograph and remember the situation and emotions surrounding you then. Just mho.

    Great post! 🙂
    Shutterbug – http://invokingcreativity.wordpress.com


    1. Hi… thanks… “Keeping it frozen” – I guess that’s what it is all about… but the frozen memories are quite fluid too sometimes. Great pix on your site.


  23. sometimes its very fulfilling to be able to capture some great pictures and memories with photography, and nice pictures doesn’t come easily, its luck and we all love luck.


  24. Fantastic post. You are clearly passionate about photography, and convey your love for your art beautifully. In my opinion – a great photo can also be an emotion. And the beauty is, one image can evoke such different feelings in people… it is one photo, but as many stories as the people viewing it.


  25. A lot of people nowadays are into photography, and I could also ask the same question. Some are just getting into it because for them it’s the latest fad. Well you do have great insights with regards to it and I find this post a good one. Gratz for being freshly pressed.

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  26. I think everyone looks at things with and through their own eyes, and photography can capture the way YOU see things and allow you to share your view with someone else. Or, just for your own pure pleasure and recall of the moment. Or maybe it’s the color (which it is lots of times for me) that touches you and makes you want to freeze the instance, or the time of day, or so many other things.

    I don’t know how good I’ll ever get at it, but doing it brings me joy–and that’s reason enough to continue. For me, it’s just one of the many artistic ways to express myself that I find challenging and enjoyable. I love working in photoshop, but I agree with you that many people overdo it and everything starts to look “finished” in the same way. There are so many “effects” and “plug-ins,” etc. that people use and I know there are a lot of amatuers that use them to try and hide their flaws and lack of skills (I use to work in a photo lab and saw plenty.).

    Will definitely check out more of your work!


  27. this is how i feel about photography all the time.. and why i take so many pictures.

    and i think its also about the reaction on peoples faces when they look at a picture/memory/moment frozen in time, they remember too, and react, its a great feeling to see someone connect with your work and know that they have just as strong emotions about it as you do.



  28. I love to take photographs (although I’m not very good at it), but usually I just don’t take the time to (and also, I hate my camera…but that’s a whole other story). Then, I regret it later. I think more people should put effort into photographing their lives. I started my blog to somewhat document my life while I’m still young, but written words can only get you so far sometimes. Maybe I should start taking daily photographs to go along with my posts. 🙂

    And I agree about the photo with the vulture and starving girl…every time I glimpse it I am left absolutely speechless. This might sound terrible, but it’s no wonder the photographer committed suicide–if I were to witness such a thing I would probably be questioning my own life and the meaning behind it as well.

    Anyways, great post, and congrats on Freshly Pressed.



  29. It definitely makes me feel good every time I take photos. It doesn’t even bother me if the photos don’t look that good. As long as I am telling a story with my photos, I am happy with it. Good luck with your new thing. 🙂


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