Access Paul Graham’s essay here (the second one on the page).
After reading Robert Adams’ book, ‘Why People Photograph’, my tutor recommended I read Graham’s short essay on photography. Adams’ book touched upon many reasons about why people take pictures. His sentimental approach appealed to me, as I also see photography as a personal outlet for my creativity.
I highly recommend Paul Graham’s short essay as well as Robert Adams’ book to anybody that photographs because they absolutely love it. To take pictures, amateur or professional, is to love and want to record what you see. Why else would we deliberate over framing and focus and composition and all of the elements that come together to make a great photograph, whether we show the world or keep it to ourselves, a secret?
One of my favourite moments of Graham’s essay is when he touches upon the idea of making sense. Whatever you photograph, to some people, it will be questioned and critiqued to no end. “I could do that with my smart phone, what’s the big deal?” they ask. It isn’t going to be a big deal to everybody, but if it’s a big deal to you, it counts. Photographing the little moments in your life that are really the big things; the way your father’s hand rests on your mother’s shoulders as they watch their son’s first dance with his new wife,
the sunlight on the shoulders of the house you walked past every day to school, the blue peeling paint on the grocer’s; those are the extraordinary moments we are gifted in this life, and to record them, whether for ourselves or for the world to see, is a keepsake, a souvenir of that memory. The smiles never fade and the flowers do not wilt and the soft orange light from your grandmother’s lamp keeps the room alive. The sublime in the everyday, indeed.
…Maybe I need to roll freeform around this world, unfettered, able to photograph whatever and whenever: the sky, my feet, the coffee in my cup, the flowers I just noticed, my friends and lovers, and, because it’s all my life, surely it will make sense? Perhaps.
As Graham continues, he declares that we are free to “not make sense”.
It was worth it, because it is something real, that didn’t exist before you made it exist: a sentient work of art and power and sensitivity, that speaks of this world and your fellow human beings place within it. Isn’t that beautiful?
It certainly is, Paul, it certainly is.
All quotes from Paul Graham’s essay, link at the beginning of this post. All photographs copyright Alannah Messett.