A lot of times when people ask me why I take the type of photos that I do (photos of random people/objects, mostly black and white), I reply saying something like: I just randomly take photos of whatever looks interesting to me. While this may be true for the most part, it doesn’t acknowledge the experiences and considerations that contributed to me adopting this style of photographing. I should mention first that this post primarily applies to my street photography, not so much to my photos of friends or travel photos.
When I first got into taking photos, I guess I was mostly just interested in capturing what things looked like or perhaps looking at things from a new perspective (up-close, magnified, frozen-motion, etc). While I was aware of artistic-looking photographs, I don’t think it ever occurred to me to try to create any of my own, perhaps because it seemed like such an unattainable goal that I didn’t even try. As time went on, I gradually became more interested in taking what I would call ‘aesthetically pleasing’ photographs, and started to study composition, camera functions, etc. That was also around the same time I bought a DSLR camera (and later a Ricoh GRII). However, during the following years, I primarily only took photos for memories (places I went and people I was with); but having studied composition and camera functions certainly helped me take nicer photos than I ever had before.
Over time, I grew more interested in trying to be a bit more creative with photography and started looking at a lot of photos online. I came to find that a lot of the magic I found in the photos I liked was actually a result of photoshop. It was at that time that I started to become a bit disillusioned with photography as a whole and started to view the photos I had previously liked as inauthentic representations of the thing being photographed. A lot of them were photos of beautiful places and people, most of them heavily edited to the point that they no longer represented reality. To clarify, I don’t have a problem with editing or photoshop, but I feel that at a certain point a photo stops being a photo and starts being more of a piece of digital mixed-media. Although it’s worth noting that reality isn’t 2-dimensional, frozen-in-time, black-and-white, and from one specific angle, so every photo misrepresents reality in some way.
I had also spent a lot of time studying how to take nice looking portraits, reading at least a dozen books and watching hundreds of instructional videos in the process. After a while I became confident enough to start taking photos of my friends and sharing them online. I thought my photos were decent, but they received essentially no praise or attention. At the same time, I saw many heavily edited photos of beautiful models online that were getting so much love and attention, but had basically nothing special going on in terms of framing or composition. I also saw amateur photographers posting poorly framed/exposed photos of their friends who happened to be extremely attractive, and those photos also received more praise than mine. It was at this time that I realized that in many cases, the quality of a portrait will be judged primarily based on the the model and his/her outfit and posing, and not so much based on the aspects more related to the camera/photographer (assuming the viewers don’t know the person in the photograph). I somehow drew a parallel between this and a lot of landscape and nature photography – taking a photo of something majestic and beautiful will often be considered a good photo, regardless of the photographer’s skill. It could also be that I suck and am just in denial – feel free to let me know if that’s the case!
These patterns that I noticed resulted in me spending a lot of time thinking about and analyzing photographs, and trying to find other patterns. One pattern I found is that the reason many people take photos is because they see something beautiful – a sunset, mountain, landscape, flower, person, etc. I would say that the vast majority of photos I see online fit into this category. Another pattern is that people like to take photographs of noteworthy or interesting events. Thinking about these patterns and my experiences with social media and the internet in general, I concluded that placing such emphasis on the beautiful and significant has the potential to warp our minds in such a way that it becomes difficult to find anything interesting or beautiful in our mundane everyday lives.
So I guess now we have gotten to the basic reason why I take photos the way I do. As mentioned in my previous post, I find that taking photos without clear intention or thought is a more authentic representation of self due to less interference by the conscious mind. Combine this with my opinions mentioned in this post and you may begin to see why I often choose to focus on things that are very mundane and/or not particularly beautiful, and why I often choose to use black and white rather than color.
The stereotypically beautiful things in the world already get enough attention, and I find it to not be enough of a challenge to take a nice photograph when all I need to do is point my camera at something beautiful or interesting/significant. Because of this, I aim to find beauty and intrigue in things that may otherwise be considered mundane, boring, or uninteresting. I also think it’s interesting to see these tiny slices of time, and random moments in strangers’ lives. Of course, none of this goes through my mind when I’m walking around taking photos. Maybe after all, I really do just randomly point camera and push button.