A couple weeks ago, when I was in Korea, we came across an old album of pictures from when my younger brother and I were kids. It held photos that my mom mailed to her parents as we were growing up, back when photos taken on 35mm film could only be seen prints from a lab. It was a lot of fun to remember the things we did and what we were like back in the day. The photographs made me smile to remember a period of time when my brother would make faces every time someone took a picture of him. I made a mental note to dig up more of our old photos when we came home because I hadn’t seen them in a while.
So, now that we’re home, my mom and I spent the last couple of nights looking through our old 4×6 prints. It’s been an unbelievable amount of fun! An hour passes by quickly when flipping through photos of my brother’s and my childhood. I get to laugh with my mom at the hilarity of my brother’s expressions–last night she laughed so hard at some of them that tears came to her eyes. I’ve laughed pretty hard at some of the photos, as well. It’s been entertaining as well as a good time for bonding, because I can ask her about photos I’m in where I don’t remember the context.
Which led me to wonder: What is your philosophy for photography? Why do you take pictures? Wanting to be artsy is OK. There’s nothing wrong with interesting angles or subjects. Even better, I think, is if you can evoke some sort of response, particularly emotional, in your viewers. Of course, for this, it helps to have an audience. But maybe you don’t want an audience, and that’s OK, too. Photography can have therapeutic uses, or maybe you’re in a period where you’re practicing or experimenting to improve your style, and you don’t want to show people your results just yet.
Still, make no mistake about it. Your photography is for someone. Your photography has an audience, whether it’s just you or your family or your friends or strangers. One thing I realized from looking at these pictures from my childhood is that I hope other people have photos like these, too. There are so many memories and moments captured in these photos, and I am very glad to have them.
I don’t publish many of my photos of people, just because I’m not sure if they would want them to be posted publicly, so I err on the side of privacy and opt not to upload them to Facebook or Flickr. This influences my choice of subjects, because if I don’t have an audience for my photos, I’m personally not as inclined to take them. But from my experiences these past couple of evenings, I think that’s a mistake. I want to help other kids and parents have the same fun that I just had in looking at childhood photos. I want them to smile as they look back on years past to see moments that they might have forgotten.
Moreover, artistry and taking photos of kids are not mutually exclusive. Some of the photos that I was most drawn to were more than simply snapped without a second thought. They were portrait-like in their ability to capture a child’s gaze in a soulful, striking, and aesthetic manner.
Not that they all have to be that way. Some of the photos I most enjoyed were the candids, with events or expressions captured in a fresh and genuine manner. They have context, either immediately noticeable or explainable by my mom. They’re striking because of their poignancy, but more so due to their genuineness. The subjects are unguarded. The expressions aren’t provoked by the photographer; they’re real and responsive to the context. I enjoy candids because they capture a moment as it really is.
Through this experience, my photography philosophy has changed. Although I’m still OK with taking pictures of statues and waterfalls and other inanimate objects, I want to take pictures like these so that other people can enjoy them as much as I enjoy the ones that I have. I’m not going to start shooting portraits professionally because I don’t have the time or the interest. But whenever possible, I want to take pictures of people, especially kids, and send my work to those people so that they can look back at them some time from now and enjoy the memories. I’m extending this resolution of change to you, as well: if you own a camera and you know how to use it (and don’t self-deprecate here–you know if you have some skill with a camera), help other families or individuals remember moments they might otherwise forget. They may be very thankful to have them later on. I sure was.
But first, go find some old pictures and enjoy them! You’ll be glad you did.