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DPChallenge Forums >> Photography Discussion >> What IS The Purpose of The Photograph?
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06/04/2009 09:29:13 PM · #1
On the one hand it seems to be universal that "The Photograph" has as many purposes as the types of occasions that call for a photograph.

However, on the other hand, one wonders if "The Photograph" is merely the reflection of Societal mores of a given epoch.
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Okay! I apologize for the "High-Brow" sound of the opener, but the point is...when we shoot photos, is that ALL we are doing...Trying to please the viewer, trying to express the vision of the Artist that resides in each of our hearts, or both, (and then 50/50, 60/40, or some other ratio)?

(FYI,...there is no hidden agenda here. No anger, and no implied spiritual lesson. This is merely the confession of an Artist who is regularly astounded by my low scores on DPC, especially after improving my Post-Process Skills markedly, and starting to walk the "fine line" between what "sells to the voter" and what I have tried to capture that I think is amazing.)

Bottom Line: My Ability to Read the Challenge Descriptions and Create an Excellent Photo that hits my consistent desire of being Praise-Worthy and place among the most consistently-excellent photographers of DPC has improved, but remains often a "Comedy of Errors."

(Thank You for allowing me to express my angst. I know that it is nobody's problem but my own, and I have heard some of The Greats, like idnic and Hot Pasta, express similar emotions, but I still wonder at times, if there is a place in this "sound-byte" society for photos that can't be understood and aren't graded as though split-second comprehension is always a good thing.)

Why am I saying ALL this? Well, I entered a photo in one of the Basics this Tuesday, believing that with everything that I have learned in 3 1/2 years of DPC, the entry would be easily over the 6.0 level, but it is tracking in the low fours because apparently Clarity (a consistent bane for me) doesn't matter on this one as much as the fact that the implied second subject is way too subtle.

SOL 4 me! :} Yet, to the best of my ability I will keep trying to "swing at bat." :)

Message edited by author 2009-06-04 21:32:43.
06/04/2009 09:38:00 PM · #2
This isn't a question with a universal answer.

06/04/2009 09:49:14 PM · #3
This interesting article -- When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Debates, Give or Take -- on photography and a recent exhibit seems to address your question.

Message edited by author 2009-06-04 21:50:57.
06/04/2009 09:53:19 PM · #4
Sounds like a good time for emptying the mind and waiting for an inspiration as to what photography does for you. I need to do this far more often than I do.
06/04/2009 10:18:50 PM · #5
Just shoot a lot. Then you will start to find what works for you and maybe care a little less about what other people think (but we do all still hope everybody loves everything we do or we would keep our photos to ourselves) then you may find that others may better apreciate what you do. If you are struggling with what you want either out of photography in general or just a particular photo it does show up in your work. What is it that you find interesting and how can you try to convey that to a viewer? They do not have context- only what you are showing them. Trying to go for a high score is good- it helps you to learn what other people like in photos. Then you can start to take it in your own direction and make it more personal- what you like presented in a way others can understand what you are doing.

I hope I am not rambling too much here.
06/04/2009 10:21:41 PM · #6
I was actually contemplating a similar thought a few weeks ago. About why are photos so important to people and why do they have such a following? You see so many peo0ple wandering around with cameras and thousands of photos being printed....but why? I have discussed this topic with many people and the main consensus was capturing memories....but there are so many ways of capturing memories...in word and type as well as paint.

I am torn at times as to why some photography is more popular than others...when some photography isn't about documenting peoples lives....there is stock photography, still life, abstract, fantasy and so on.

So why photography? Why is it so popular?

Deep thinking I know...but I am amazed at how many times I get people wowing my work and when I compare my work to other photographers who are way better, I become bemused as to what is the attraction. I just take photos...I don't see myself as anyone special. And I am sure there are thousands of others in the same boat as me....thinking...why me?
06/04/2009 10:23:08 PM · #7
A lot of what I have been taking lately is for me and me alone. It is a way to express deep sorrow and pain. To capture the depth of these emotions in a photograph brings healing and reminds me of where I have been.

I don't enter these images in challenges. I don't care what other people think. I take pictures for myself and the deep sense of satisfaction I get when I effectively capture the depths of emotion I experience over issues in my life.

I show them to a select few, receive affirmation from those I care about and that is enough.

Why does it matter how you score in a given challenge? What matters more is are you satisfied as an artist?
06/04/2009 10:27:13 PM · #8
Originally posted by slickchik:

A lot of what I have been taking lately is for me and me alone. It is a way to express deep sorrow and pain. To capture the depth of these emotions in a photograph brings healing and reminds me of where I have been.

I don't enter these images in challenges. I don't care what other people think. I take pictures for myself and the deep sense of satisfaction I get when I effectively capture the depths of emotion I experience over issues in my life.

I show them to a select few, receive affirmation from those I care about and that is enough.

Why does it matter how you score in a given challenge? What matters more is are you satisfied as an artist?


Thankyou. Your words have so much meaning and show a whole other side to what photography is about and why and how it helps people.
06/05/2009 12:19:11 AM · #9
Originally posted by Judi:

Originally posted by slickchik:

A lot of what I have been taking lately is for me and me alone. It is a way to express deep sorrow and pain. To capture the depth of these emotions in a photograph brings healing and reminds me of where I have been.

I don't enter these images in challenges. I don't care what other people think. I take pictures for myself and the deep sense of satisfaction I get when I effectively capture the depths of emotion I experience over issues in my life.

I show them to a select few, receive affirmation from those I care about and that is enough.

Why does it matter how you score in a given challenge? What matters more is are you satisfied as an artist?


Thankyou. Your words have so much meaning and show a whole other side to what photography is about and why and how it helps people.


Thank you, Judi, for affirming my thoughts.

I have discovered this creative side of me that I never knew existed until I started really going through a painful time in my life.

DPC has helped me grow and learn and discover who I am as an artist. It was not the main challenges that inspired me but the side challenges that inspired and taught and encouraged me.

I think it is really important to figure out who you are as a photographic artist and pursue that. That is what brings satisfaction and fulfillment long term.

I just don't care to please the masses.

Message edited by author 2009-06-05 00:20:33.
06/05/2009 01:57:08 AM · #10
At its heart, photography is communication. It is the communication of many things, and for that reason, is a very, very, rich format for that end. It can communicate the exact way things appeared or it can depict the exact way the artist perceived things. I think that to a great extent, the immense following that photography has is because it leaves less room for interpretation than say a text does. Look at how differently religious texts are interpreted (just using a well known example, not trying to invoke rant). Photographs are interpreted differently as well, but I think the fundamental meaning stays more intact than text, for example. Photos are readily accessible too. Try to describe in words any photo you have taken and attempt to convey the same richness of communication, and you will find it very, very hard to do so (ergo the cliche "1000 words").
I don't think you can arbitrarily say that it is __% for the photographer and __% for the viewer, because every situation varies. Of course, a photojournalist embedded in Iraq is mostly shooting for others, they are trying to show how things are there. For the person carrying a camera deep into the mountains, there's a perfectly equal chance that it will be to show their friends and family or that they are just keeping the images for themselves, a reflection of the grandeur. Sometimes, I think that the documentation is purely for one's own reasons, as ' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21_F.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/21_F.gif', '/') + 1) . ' slickchik says, and can really be used for introspection. It is a shared interaction, and the degree that the photograph tells a story about the scene and the photo tells a story about the photographer is something that cannot always be controlled by the person that captures the scene. It also tells the viewer a lot about themselves, illustrating what chords are struck and by what. Viewing and creating photos is an extremely intimate process, even if we don't realize it.
As the link that ' . substr('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/user_id/1031.gif', strrpos('//www.dpchallenge.com/images/user_icon/user_id/1031.gif', '/') + 1) . ' GeneralE posted states, there is a barbarism to it, and I don't think it is a controlled barbarism, it goes both ways regardless of how people want it to be perceived.
But I take issue with the final sentiment of the article- It's interesting that the author was trying to make the sentiment that something known is more allowed than the unknown. It is impossible to disallow or disapprove of the unknown.

A nice, looooonnggg post for my 600th :)
06/05/2009 05:02:46 AM · #11
Originally posted by slickchik:

Why does it matter how you score in a given challenge?


Honestly? I confess that I am very competitive! It is the very thing that keeps me striving to improve in everything that I do! It drives me onward and upward!

These answers so far are ALL what I was hoping to receive, and are quite encouraging. Thanks!

Great Resource, General E! I need to ponder and think deeply.

It IS nice to know that just as I had hoped, others still feel the same way, and answers to this issue are rarely simple and universal.

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Keep taking a lot of pictures is a consistently Great Answer! Thanks! I plan to do just that...for it seems that Flora and Fauna are rising to the top as my best work.

Honored in Your Professional Friendship,

Stan :)

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06/05/2009 05:29:11 AM · #12
photograph was invented to record and document
it evolved though
06/08/2009 08:22:42 AM · #13
Originally posted by 777STAN:

On the one hand it seems to be universal that "The Photograph" has as many purposes as the types of occasions that call for a photograph.

However, on the other hand, one wonders if "The Photograph" is merely the reflection of Societal mores of a given epoch.


What an interesting time for this topic - and particularly the quote above - to rear it's head. This was exactly the topic of one of my University final exams (which by the way I finished last week woop!). So if you don't mind I'm about to get a bit intellectually self-indulgent here.

The question of what a photo represents and how social pressures influence taste and aesthetics has always been central to photography. In fact it was this very pressure that helped provoke the invention of photography in the first place. The rise of the middle class in France during the 1820s and 30s meant that more and more people wanted portraits. As the only people rich or powerful enough to have portraits commissioned up until that point had been upper class and princely, the taste of the time followed that trend.

Fast forward a few years, the demand for higher turn over of paintings, cheaper and easier methods of production leads to Niépce to invent photography. His friend Daguerre eventually made the invention public and so began a new era of trend setting. Early portraits, free from social constraints or preconceptions and taken by out of work painters were very artistic. As the technology developed, portraits were cheaper and easier to produce. Photos became status symbols, and so the taste for looking grand and impressive in photos that reflected your employment or skill became popular. A lot of photography from this period is very soulless and static, with the subjects looking uncomfortable, however this was the taste of the time. Between about 1850 and 1900 as the technology was developed in France and the US, very little thought or care was placed on the artistic quality of photography.

Around 1900, people like Man Ray started to experiment again with photography, and the popularisation of street and candid photography by the likes of Heinrich Zille led to a re-establishment of the credibility of photography as an art. Tastes began to redevelop.

In more recent years mass production of photography continues on a massive scale. It is interesting to note that in our global society, social taste has been somewhat replaced by more insular group taste. This site tends towards pure eye candy, sites like 1x have a different style and so on. What seems to remain true though is that photography on a grand scale tends towards people striving for what is deemed to be the "right" way to take a photo in a given context.

If we learn can anything from Man Ray, therefore, it's to look beyond the obvious and the socially accepted - who knows, you might be a misunderstood genius!

Hope people find my musings interesting!
06/08/2009 09:38:54 AM · #14
"To make art is to sing with the human voice." From Art and Fear, Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland. Wonderful resource touching on all aspects of the age old questions of what is art and why do artists make art. Covers finding your work, academic world and galleries, inner perspective and external validation, role of money, impact of competitions (hello DPC), concepts, human voice, and much more. I almost did not get this because of the title. I am now glad I was not afraid.

"Vision is the beginning and end of photography. It's the thing that moves you to pick up the camera, and it determines what you look at and what you see when you do. It determines how you shoot and why." "Gear is good, vision is better." From Within the Frame, The journey of photographic vision, David duChemin. New book, just out in 2009, rich resource for what comes after learning which dial to turn and button to push. Neither book deviates into new age mush.

For me, the camera is a friend and tool that encourages me to see with clarity and awareness wherever I look. The photograph is the double check on what I saw, and whether my current technical and artisitc skills are up to the task of capturing it. The photographs that approach this ideal then have a chance to communicate with others, even though they may be received differently by each individual.

Message edited by author 2009-06-08 10:22:56.
06/09/2009 01:53:59 AM · #15
JimiRose, your "musings" are amusingly warm and insightful and encouraging, all at the same time!

"Misunderstood Genius?" I like that! Certainly worth the investment of time to read your post! Thanks so much! :)
06/09/2009 08:31:33 AM · #16
Originally posted by Judi:

I am amazed at how many times I get people wowing my work and when I compare my work to other photographers who are way better, I become bemused as to what is the attraction. I just take photos...I don't see myself as anyone special. And I am sure there are thousands of others in the same boat as me....thinking...why me?

That's the crux of it for me......what on earth does someone who doesn't know the story behind the image that moved me enough to shoot it have any business falling in love with it?

I *know* why I love the image.....I was there, I know who everybody is and why they were what they were.

Yet I fall into the same thing, becoming besotted with an image from someone else that speaks to me, and wondering why it is that *I* cannot capture a moment that evokes such feelings in me.

That's what it is, in short, we communicate things to people that we often do not see the same way because of, or in spite of, our own knowledge of the scene.
06/09/2009 11:23:56 AM · #17
i think some are missing what i think is an important point--photography in my opinion is a bit like music it can mean different things to different people at the same time depending on how you see it,or different things to the same person at different times. I think a great photo has a universal emotional connection
06/09/2009 11:48:24 AM · #18
Good question, and no simple answer.

A photgraphy can mean many things, or almost nothing...

It can have meanings to viewers that were never intended by the photgrapher.

Somtimes it is a mere recording of the facts. (As in a household inventory.)
Sometimes it means the world. As in this thread: "for eternity"
Most of the time it is somewhere in between.

It is what each of us make of it. An image may mean nothing to the photographer, yet strike us to our very core. And at the same time, speak a great deep truth to the photographer, yet be strangely mute to any other viewer.

A photograph is what it is. And each of us will decide for our selves what is, is.
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