Why do you take pictures, Jack?
Now that everyone is armed with their own personal camera, I hardly ever get this question anymore. But back in the early 90s, when I trundled along with my big ol' Canon Elan II 35mm camera, I got the question a lot. I was regarded as a bit of an intruder. "Why are you taking pictures?", someone would inevitably ask.
Now, you're weird if you don't own a camera. With cameras so small they fit in your front pocket, the question has now become "Why aren't you living on camera... or just memorializing your 168th meal at McDonald's?" It's a quick form of validation and it speaks perfectly to our narcissism.
But I'm saying this with a little bit of judgment and snarky disapproval. Sometimes I think the craft is cheapened when everyone regards a photographer as someone who just presses a button and makes a picture. Thing is, even though I take very few pictures of myself, every bit of me is in every picture I take. It's my time and energy and research. It's my back twisting to compose the shot just so, and it's my eyes cracked with red veins experimenting with the image in the post process phase.
So, as I stated in an earlier post, I made my way up to Ithaca, determined to get some shots of waterfalls. There seem to be quite a number of spots between the Finger Lakes that feature some of these amazing beauties. I honed in on Taughannock Waterfalls and dutifully performed my research about its history, scouting the best place to take a picture, etc.
Who doesn't love a beautiful waterfall? When it's not associated with a tsunami or raging hurricane, crashing waters, trickling springs and babbling brooks are a balm. It soothes the soul, invigorates and attracts introspection. It's a cliche, I know, but after reading the formation of this particular waterfall -- a 215 foot drop of water presiding over a looming wall of shale and siltstone dating back to prehistoric times -- it prompted a shift in my thinking. If I tend to wax philosophical or religious over sights of nature, you'll understand why I love to photograph them.
Capturing a moment with a photograph is just one reason why photographers chase the world over for beautiful, natural landscapes. Everyone can have their own reasons and I can only speak to my own. It's my stamp; it says I was here and I was awed enough to take the time to memorialize this scene in a digitally frozen image, an instant different from all the other instances, when added together make up a cumulative history of a place or thing. Sometimes, it's the closest thing we have to time travel, in reverse at least.
I'm less interested in taking pictures of myself, sure. But there's just as every bit of me in my images as there is if you looked at my face.