Why, why oh why?
Why do we do the things we do? I’ll explain the retro family photos later, but this week, as part of an assignment for the Beloved Collective (a 6-week webinar series I’m currently attending), we were asked to really identify our WHY — the reasons and motivation for doing the work we do. Why photography? Why do we create art? Being paid for this type of work isn’t always reason enough to stick to it. Times are tough, competition is fierce, photography rates low on the hierarchy of needs for a majority of the world– so there has to be more than the ol mighty dollar as a motivational factor. The assignment asks that we really think about our “WHY?” and then write it down in a blogpost and make it public.
So I had two days to think — and I have thought very long and very hard. And I could give you a 1001 surface-scratching reasons. I like creating. I like the colors. I like the shadows. I like the art of observation. I like people. I like families. Babies. Laughs. I like my camera. I like the idea of giving “birth” to an image when I see it printed and mounted and hung on a wall. Heck, photography makes me feel good. But again, why? None of these things sum it up. And when I can’t find the proper words to express myself, I look to a place that can express it better than me. Books.
One my favorite books of all time is Room with a View by E.M. Forester. A favorite scene of mine is of George Emerson climbing a tree, yelling into the wind. His father says proudly, “He’s saying his creed. Proclaiming the eternal YES.” He’s a wise one, that Mr. Emerson. He explains, “We know that we come from the winds, and that we shall return to them; that all life is perhaps a knot, a tangle, a blemish in the eternal smoothness. But why should this make us unhappy? Let us rather love one another, and work and rejoice.”
Life is fleeting and the only evidence we can leave of ourselves on this earth are memories. Our spirit lives on in other people and tangibly, in photos and video, and the art we create. My dad died when I was 7 years old. I only have fragments of memories from our brief time together. But stories of him endure. I was around 5 and I remember sitting in the kitchen. He spontaneously hugged my mom in the kitchen, dipping her and planting a kiss on her nape. He was a doctor and we got to hang out at his office on Wednesdays. I remember eating pizza in his office and watching cartoons on 6 in B&W TV while waiting for him to finish with his last patient. I remember him playing the organ in our living room. Being a self-taught musician, he only played music in the key of C and G. I inherited the shutterbug gene from him, along with all his old cameras. And him being the family photographer, sadly, there are not a lot of photos of him. But every time I eat pizza in front of a TV, receive a spontaneous hug or hear organ music – my senses awaken and I remember him. And while I have plenty of good memories, I worry about the day my memory fail me and forget the stories. I wish in all my heart, that I had just one photo of him and me together just hugging, just to jog my memory when I’m in my 70s and having a senior moment. A little reminder of my childhood self, shielded by innocence and blissfully aware of a father who loved me.
Above are two of the photos I have of my dad. The first was taken after he finished medical school. The second was a family photo taken in our living room back in 1979. I remember it being a BIG DEAL. I don’t have much of my dad to remember him by. Perhaps when I look in the mirror, I catch glimpses of him in me. I have the stories in my memory bank. And I have these photos.
People may not understand the value of the work I do for them now. But they will always understand and appreciate it in hindsight. That’s why I do the work I do. It’s an addictive high to yield that power of creation. And I am happy to provide them this service, which I know will only appreciate in time and serve them when senses and memory fails. My job is done when my images tells the world the story of who you are, and your uniqueness. I want people to see the art in you.
Why do I take photos? It’s my way of declaring the eternal yes.