The Philosophy of Photography


It’s estimated that 1 trillion photos will have been taken this year. That’s 1,000,000,000,000 photos. In one year.

But… why?

I ask this as a rhetorical question of course. As a man who writes a blog I really don’t want to put the question “why” into people’s heads for too long. Plus, as a man with his own blog I’m opinionated enough to just tell you exactly why anyway.

Most people may argue that their pictures are for them. That years from now they’ll look back over them and be thankful that they took so many, because each one meant something. But that’s rubbish. The existence of Facebook and Instgram show our photos are not for ourselves, but for others. To show them all the best-foot-forward, cool things that we get up to. We want desperately to believe that we’re important, that what we’re doing is important. To hope that someone somewhere will feel jealous of us. And that we’re worthy of that jealousy.

While on holiday this year I saw some deer. It was as I was driving past – a whole family with little baby deer like something off an Ikea canvas print. Just lovely. The moment was gone far too fast for me to get my camera and take a picture. In fact, by trying to do so I would have missed it.

Even if I’d had the camera out and ready, suddenly the memory wouldn’t be of seeing the deer, but of my viewfinder. Thus the photo itself becomes not a memento of that moment, but a poorly shot representation of an experience I didn’t experience. In that situation I could have simply gone online and found a better picture of deer, one that’s not shot by an incompetent travelling at 60mph, and it would have meant exactly the same.

The addition of Photoshopping just compounds this. Not only are you taking photos of things that don’t mean anything, but now you’re actually altering them to look even less like the moment itself. By adjusting the colour, removing the imperfections, adding a filter you’re robbing yourself of the reality and creating a moment that never existed. That never could exist.

That’s why the best photos aren’t the ones where the group gather round and stare at the photographer. Where you collectively say cheese and pull a smile that doesn’t appear anywhere in nature. Where your hair is just perfect, otherwise DELETE!

The best photos are of a moment. A group of friends talking to each other, laughing together. The sunset you watched with a loved one. Children running around playing, not being forced to sit and smile inanely.

The more staged a photo is, by definition the less real it is.

Years from now you won’t look back and remember posing for a selfie. You’ll remember where you were, what you were doing that you had to distract yourself away from in order to pose of the photo.

Let’s say you meet a celebrity you love. You don’t have much of their time. Do you thank them from the bottom of your heart for their work which has affected you so much? Do you talk to them as a person, and connect with them as a fellow human being, forever remembering a moment shared? Or do you say “excuse me, could I get a picture?” and remember forever the moment you were stood next to a hero, literally inches away from them, and instead chose to spend it staring at the screen of your phone?

But it’s fine, you can crop it down and add a filter when you get home to hide how you look. But at least this way people will know. And that’s the important thing.