Although I have strong views about the relative worth of photography, views that ultimately only really reflect my assessment of what makes art worthwhile, I am perfectly willing to suspend or modify them when it comes to looking at my own work.
For I don’t take pictures with art in mind, I take them because an interesting view has presented itself. The results can be variable. What seemed interesting one day might seem mundane the next and yet again interesting further down the road. That’s why I keep most of my photographs and periodically review them. Storage is cheap these days.
But even the most artistically uninteresting of my own photographs can have great merit when considered differently. Most importantly as a record of history, place and people. I’ve lived long enough that many dead faces stare out at me from my archives. Such pictures work to confirm – or deny – memories. The most valuable, unsurprisingly, are those from my youth. There aren’t many of those, but there are enough to fill out my backstory.
Everything I photograph today, even the pictures that I have embraced primarily as art, works on the same level and their worth increases proportional as time passes by. We tend to get so caught in the present that it’s easy to forget or dismiss this, but it’s crucial to the value of a photograph. In these days of rapid fire Instagram and Facebook photos, catching, seemingly, every whim of our lives, it becomes even harder to look at this clutter and see historical gold buried within. But it’s there, and should be saved. Unfortunately, with so many of us trusting our visual record to the bits and bytes of today’s technology and the business model of social media, we have lost a lot of control and are more vulnerable to be being erased that we might think. That’s why it’s so important to make at least some prints of your work and keep those with the same dedication that we used to keep the prints from the days of film. But making prints requires extra effort, and often the next moment had crept up on us pushing aside what just happened. And then it gets forgotten, the cell phone gets lost, the memory card formatted by mistake, and the social media platform shuts down. Saving these memories happens less than it should, and a lot less than it must.
But back to picture taking. I called this post, ‘I Liked Them When I Did Them’ and in truth, with a far smaller number of exceptions than one might think, that’s true of all my photography. I do look back and see every artistic mistake possible written clear and upfront in my images, but that really doesn’t matter too much. Always there are some – a few – that really hold up however you choose to judge them.
That’s why I photograph.