Who are We Making Art For?

“Why do you love photography?”

It was a question posed to me by a fellow artist as we were talking art. It’s something I hadn’t considered and caused me to think deeply about my answer. Finally, I came to a conclusion that surprised even myself.

“I don’t. I love nature.”

I may have been understating my love for photography - I actually do love it. I find great joy in the challenges to make an image of a place at a given time seem unique - to capture the essence of the scene at that time. I love the challenge of finding a compelling composition that showcases the subject of the image while minimizing the distractions. I enjoy learning and applying new post-processing techniques to lead the viewer’s eyes where I want them, while taking them away from the elements I’d rather they not dwell on.

But the truth of the matter is that I don’t go into the mountains, the beaches or the desert in order to photograph. I go to these places in order to feel, to re-charge, to get in tune with my spirituality. I just happen to have a camera with me.

And I hope this comes across in the images I make. I’ve noticed I’m not making nearly as many images of places lately, so much as I’m making images of nature merely being. I’m trying to make nature the star, not the place.

So many landscape photographers these days seem to be “trophy hunters” sharing their work of iconic landscape locations with great light. But in general, they seem to be going after the social media likes, trying to become the next social media darling. I was once one of those people - gotta get an image from all the iconic spots in beautiful light. But I found myself not enjoying my time in nature. I was spending all my time concentrating on getting to that location or finding the perfect composition that I stopped looking around and actually experiencing nature - the quiet of the breeze blowing through the trees, the occasional bird chirping and the overall nuances of nature that are so often missed or ignored by so many. Sometimes, I find joy merely looking for those things - even when I don’t find them.

Is my way the right way? It is for me, but may not be for you. Maybe you find that peace and the resonance in your inner being at these iconic locations next to a handful or a hundred other people. There’s no doubt the beauty that those locations possess. But I was told early on in my photography journey to photograph what I was passionate about and my audience would find me - don’t let an audience dictate what it is you photograph. A surefire way to guarantee your images are soulless is to begin photographing, painting, drawing (or any art form) something you’re not passionate about.

Chasing likes and followers - it only leads to less important images. Perhaps they’re technically correct. Perhaps they’re beautiful to some, but the odds are that they won’t have staying power. Becoming addicted to the dopamine rush from the social media posts will only reinforce to you that you should continue taking these images. For some, it’s their photographic purpose - and that’s OK. I’ve found that for me it's not, and it’s also quite unfulfilling.