Why Do I Photograph?
Every so often, someone will ask me a question. Sometimes it's just a general "Why do you like to photograph?" Other times it's more specific, such as "Why do you like to photograph landscapes?" Or the even more specific "why do you like to photograph (insert specific subject)
My Own Mental Health
The first part of the answer is very personal. I've previously written about research that shows that getting outside in nature makes people happier. There is also corresponding research that shows that looking at nature photographs also makes people happier. For most of my adult life, like many people, I've battled depression to one extent or another. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I finally realized that my excursions outside with my camera always left me feeling better than before I left, whether they be to a local beach, a nearby trail, or a road trip to one of the many national parks scattered across the country. So that answers why I choose to get outside and enjoy nature. Heck, lots of people have come to that same conclusion and get outside every chance they get as well. So... why photograph it?
Well, why do we photograph anything? Usually, it's because we want to remember that moment, that scene, that vista. We want to remember the people we experienced that with. Pictures trigger memories for us. For myself, hanging my prints on the wall serves a dual purpose. First, it makes me happy. As I mentioned earlier, looking at nature photographs does that for people. Our brains react just like it does when we go outside. Second, my photography is personal for me. While it may not have this meaning to anyone else, for me, my photographs are a record of my life. Yes, I know I was standing on Little Hunters Beach (above), but I also recall that I was starting a new job at that time, that my children were waiting back at the cabin we were staying in, opting to sleep later and miss this gorgeous sunrise.
Interestingly, I find that others purchase my landscapes for similar reasons. For instance, my first sale of Maroon Bells II was to a woman who gifted it to her son and future daughter-in-law. They had gotten engaged the day before I made that photograph, in that location. This is my favorite reason to sell a print- because that print has triggered a happy memory for the buyer.
Now, I'm far from being a tree-hugging hippie, at least on the surface. Honestly, I couldn't say whether my interest in environmental conservation came first, or my interest in landscape photography did. The fact is, one now feeds off of the other. Put simply, I'm afraid that one day, these beautiful places will be gone, or will simply no longer be beautiful. My photographing them is my way of preserving them. It is my way of trying to make people aware of their existence, their fragility, and their need to be protected.
I donate to several environmental causes when I am able. Some of my favorites are the Sierra Club, 4Ocean, and Parks Project. Ultimately, I believe we should all help however we feel is best. When I'm out photographing, I try hard to adhere to the principle of "Leave No Trace". A favorite saying I have is "Take only pictures. Leave only footprints. Kill only time." Ideally, I'd like it if the only evidence I was ever in a place was the photograph hanging on the wall.
A Love of History
Ever since I was a child, I've always been interested in history. Growing up in New Jersey, the "Crossroads of the American Revolution", I quickly became enamored of the history around me. Random houses with plaques stated "George Washington slept here". As I've traveled more around the country, historic subjects have often caught my eye. The various lighthouses in the places I've grown up or traveled to or lived in have long held my interest. What was the keeper's life like? What caused the lighthouse to be placed here? What kind of drama had unfolded on this coastline? What heroic acts took place? Lighthouses are picturesque, yes, but for me, it's the historic importance that really draws me.
The same holds true for old mills, covered bridges, one-room schoolhouses, cabins, you name it. They all recall days gone by. They all make intriguing subjects, not only for the questions they raise, and for their significance a hundred years ago, but also for the reasons they still stand today, either as a monument to days gone by, or a still-used element of the community.
Just So I Can Show You
The last reason why I photograph is quite simple. So I can show you what I see. What I find interesting. What I find beautiful. Not everyone will care. Not everyone will see the beauty I do. But I take joy in those who do. When I met my wife, I'm not sure she'd ever watched a sunrise before. I'm not sure she'd ever noticed one. But now she always tells me she notices the color as she's driving to work in the morning. She may be just showing a bit of favoritism, but she tells me she never noticed before she met me, before I showed her my photographs. Others have mentioned that they enjoy my photography because they get to see places they've never been or that they may never get to go. Maybe this is selfish, but it makes me happy to know I've been able to show them that.
So these are the reasons why I photograph, and why I choose the subjects I do. I assume if you've read this far, you enjoy my work, so I'd love it if you left a comment below telling me which photo is your favorite, and why. Thanks for reading!