Why do we take pictures?

One way or another it seems we’re all battling to have our voices heard – or images seen – amongst a growing hubbub, a throng of vulturine media. Competition is taking its toll on many established pros. New ideas don’t stay new for very long; fresh approaches aren’t fresh at all once you start digging and conservation photography, that very laudable idea that visual imagery can contribute to societal values, has in some cases, become the latest photographic bandwagon: a trendy claim to justify self-indulgence. It’s all so damned difficult.

So where is professional nature photography heading? Well, that’s probably a subject for a six-part blockbuster blog, and even if I knew the answer – which I don’t – I’m not sure it addresses my current thought processes. So let’s just stop and think and strip it all back to basics.

Reading David Noton’s piece in a recent edition of Outdoor Photography, I was struck by the simple truth that our pursuit of photographic trophies – those images you can hold aloft and shout about – really isn’t the end in itself but the means to the end. Without the drive that all photographers have to some degree, to secure the images we want, in all likelihood we wouldn’t find ourselves stood on a coastal headland at daft o’clock or freezing your wotsits off in a Scottish blizzard or being so close to a bear that you can smell its rancid breath. These experiences are the real trophies; these are the memories that will etch themselves on your soul for ever – the camera is just the excuse for being there.

So is it just about having fun? In some cases most definitely but I’m not yet 100% sold on that notion – perhaps I just don’t wear frivolity very comfortably. That said, my perspective has changed in recent years. Photography allows us, perhaps forces us, to see the world differently and certainly the experiences I’ve been afforded from standing behind a camera, have shaped what I think, what I feel, what I am. As I reluctantly approach the half-century mark, I’ve learned that the most valuable asset I own is not my image archive but my memory archive, the one stored in my minds eye.