What is the Purpose of Photography?

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As I continue to explore why I chose my career and where I want to go with my artistic vision, I cannot help but delve into why I chose photography, to begin with. What is the purpose of photography? Is it just a way to document that we were somewhere or a way to show something that happened? Or is there more to it than only the immediate release of the shutter?

Friends Capturing a Picture Together
Friends Capturing a Picture Together

In today’s world of technology, all you have to do is go to any restaurant, and you will find someone taking a picture of their meal before they eat it with their cell phone.

It’s ok to raise your hand, I’m raising mine I have been guilty of this myself!

Why do we do this? Is it a compulsion?

Couple in Love Dancing
Couple in Love Dancing

Being a camera addict to the extreme, I purposely bought a crappy cell phone a year ago to force myself not to take as many images but instead be engaged with my life in general, lol. And if I go anywhere, the first question I am asked by others is, “did you bring your camera?”

Oh, sometimes I have to roll my eyes inwardly and laugh to myself because we are all becoming addicts. There is no doubt that we love to document our lives today; the evidence is everywhere.  

Photography’s Connection to Emotion

Photography is used for a plethora of things throughout societies, but in the end, it provokes reality by providing us with moments of revelation that we can emotionally attach ourselves to.

“What did you just say?”

Yeah, I know that sounded philosophical, so let me break that down a little bit more for you.

Side note: I have been reading some deep nerdy sociological and philosophical literature lately, so please tell me if I get above everyone’s heads. Just call a “NERD ALERT” on me.

Image of Funeral Procession
Funeral Procession of Cynthia

When we choose to take a picture of something, we are attempting to freeze that fleeting moment forever in a frame. A single frame, a single second, in an image that can be printed or shared.

Revisiting that image later will allow us to “see” this memory and evoke all of the emotions that were attached to that moment in time.

For example, I am a wedding photographer, among the other types of photography I do, and throughout a wedding day, I am capturing what is happening for my clients to re-live later.  Some of those moments they may not have otherwise seen if I were not present to capture it for them.

Our emotions begin with our senses, and photography allows emotion to pass through our eyes (Scott 18).

Powerful, isn’t it? I think so, and it is why I love to connect via photography.

Holding Hands at Wedding Ceremony
Mother’s Holding Hands at Wedding Ceremony

What is a good photographer?

Now that you know why we tend to be so thoroughly connected to photography, whether it is through your cell phone or a high-end DSLR, it would be tempting to rationalize that everyone is a photographer. 

In one sense, you are right because everyone is capable of “snapping” an image. However, professional photographers, I would argue we are also artists, are different for a reason.

That reason is our ability to “see” through our cameras, and through our mastery of the tool in our hands and our imagination, we stop time and give it back to you artistically. 

Guest Using Cell Phone at a Wedding
Guest Using Cell Phone at a Wedding

Sure, we can create a “mechanical” record by just simply snapping images, but a good photographer knows how to go above and beyond to reveal emotion.

In the fraction of a second, we both anticipate and react to our environment. Artistic photographers are emotionally attuned to their surroundings and use photography to confirm their own feelings about life.

Groom Looking at His Bride
Groom Looking at His Bride

For example, one of my deepest held beliefs is love, and I believe it still exists in pure forms through relationships. This is very evident in my portfolio of wedding images.

What about images that are posed?

If gifted photographers are all about the emotion in images, where do pictures that are posed come into play?

That is an excellent question to ask! Regardless of whether an image has been posed or not, the authenticity of it lies in the emotion that is being portrayed. 

I will illustrate what I do with wedding couples on their wedding day as an example. When people get married, they often get nervous when it comes time for their official portraits. Why? Well, that is another story for another day, but in short, we have been trained to get nervous in front of the lens from adolescence.

Young Couple in Love Photograph
Young Couple in Love at Lake Junaluska, NC

It may take me a few moments, but I challenge my couple to ignore my presence but instead interact with one another. Tell one to tell the other that they love them or whisper something in their ear, tickle them for 10 seconds, etc.

Before long, they relax and are just being who they are. I might pose their bodies in a way that is flattering to them, but the expressions on their face are authentic, and that is what I am looking for in the end.

Posed images can still reveal the emotion between relationships of all kinds. But it takes a photographer who can connect with their subject to bring out the real feeling of the moment.

Eye of the 21st Century

In conclusion, the camera has made its way into our everyday lives even more so now than ever before. With the invention of social media and technology getting more advanced daily, it is evident that the camera is now the eye of the 21st century.

This is not going to change, but how we choose to use it will be a critical responsibility. Just as other tools in the past, we can use the power of the camera to cause harm, promote awareness, capture emotion, or simply document what we see.

Police K9 Practice Attack
Police K9 Practice Attack

Ultimately, you will decide how to use photography, but I would challenge you to use it with wisdom and also to find ways to give joy to others with it.


Works Cited:

Want to get nerdy with me then read the first chapter of The Spoken Image: Photography & Language? Or contact me here and we can chat.

“CHAPTER ONE: The Nature of Photography.” Spoken Image: Photography & Language, June 1999, pp. 17–45. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=asu&AN=50374595&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

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About Me

Sabrina is an experienced photographer and Photoshop artist of many years. She fell in love with the art of photography and photo manipulation in 2009 while in college at Mars Hill University. She holds a BA in English with minors in both Regional and Women’s Studies. With an appreciation for all the arts her love of reading is what influences her artwork the most.

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