What is the point of Photography these days?

I just turned 41 and having sold my business in the last 6 months I find myself searching for a purpose in life. As a child many of us had ambitions of changing the World or making a difference in some way. I was no different. I grew up with a great sense of social justice. At the age of 6 or 7 I aksed my town mayor why, if he was so concerned about poverty, didn’t he just sell his expensive gold Mayors’ civic regalia ( a gold chain that UK mayors wear) and give the money to the poor. Everything seemed so simple at that age, with clear solutions to obvious problems.

Yet here I am in 2023 looking around me at the largest income divide since the 1930’s, inequality, corruption and a seemingly unfair World dominated by an elite ruling class that seems to sway everything in their favour including the laws of the land. I find myself wondering what on earth can I do to actually make a difference to these huge inequalities.

I’m often sat in my house in the Philippines watching the news from the UK (and to a lesser degree the US and Europe) and cannot quite believe the seeming apathy with which the masses are allowing our civil rights and liberties to be eroded by those in power. First we had the War on Terror, a seemingly noble cause. However the Governments of the West seemed to have taken this as an opportunity to consolidate power with the enactment of many invasive and overreaching laws that diminished people’s rights. Our right to protest in the UK is now being attacked at every opportunity. The ability to peacefully protest is absolutely fundamental to everything that we now consider to be ‘our rights’ as citizens. Without this right to protest we wouldn’t have the vote, minimum wage, workers rights or many other things that we currently take for granted.

The income gap between the rich and poor is now huge, much larger than it has ever been in my lifetime. The average cost of a home in many western countries makes it impossible for the average working person to own a place to live without incurring huge amounts of debt. Huge amounts of quantitative easing (printing money) benefits the rich for many reasons, not least because it acts as a huge inflationary boost which in turn increases the value of the stock market as well as their other assets such as housing and commercial property while the working classes are subjected to below inflation level pay rises (if any at all), yet still have to pay out for the increased cost of living. Should it all go a bit pear shaped then the Government will bail out the banks and the people will pick up the tab in years to come via increased taxes, exactly as happened during the global financial crisi. If you were one of the elite you would be laughing all the way to the bank (quite literally) at this no risk way of making a fotune.

Did you know that the average income of the top 0.1% of American earners increased by 345% between 1979 -2019 yet in that same time period the average salary of the bottom 90% of earners only increased by 26%.

The rich and powerful consistantly look to tilt everything in their favour, whether it be through shady business deals such as those regarding the purchase of PPE equipent in the UK, implemeting laws that take away our rights or just downright spying on us with no justification. The UK Government wastes billions of Pounds overpaying for defence and health contracts, purchasing their mates useless PPE equipment and through general incompetence. Yet, as we speak they are removing our right to protest, increasing the tax burden on the average working man at an alarming rate while removing us from the EU, mainly because those in power did not want their offshore, tax reducing accounts to be subjected to new EU laws that were due to come into force.

All this serves to highlight my generally jaded view of those in power around the World and my search for what I can do to make a difference. At 41, I am blessed with a lovely 6 year old daughter who is my best friend and quite honestly, sole purpose for getting up in the morning. I don’t want her to inherit a World that is ever more polarised, selfish, self serving (and quite honestly with the coming of social media), vacuous and vain. I spend my time trying to teach her morals, empathy and interest in the World around her but I must confess, sometimes it feels like a losing battle.

So what has all this got to do with photography? Photography has become so commonplace with the near total uptake of smartphones, as well as the constant posting of absolutely uninteresting and uninspiring photos on social media that I have found it very difficult to motivate myself to even go out and take photos anymore. It feels as though I am trying to fight the current of selfies and self promotion. In this World of 2 second attention spans how do you even create anything meaningful anymore? Everything has been shot to death, unless you’re a half naked, beautiful woman or you’re pretending to have an unobtainable ‘dream lifestyle’ then no one gives a shit about your photos. When did we all become so obsessed about what people think of us as well as so materialistic?

If I’m completely honest, I look around and it depresses me. I have to fight every day to keep my sanity as I find myself unable to comprehend a lot of people and their behaviour these days. Maybe every generation feels this as they age and are replaced with a younger generation who they fail to understand.
I no longer try and compete in that World. For me the answer is to come off social media, don’t give a toss about how many likes an image gets, don’t ask why this photo got liked and that one didn’t. Nothing makes sense in that World. Good photography is not about likes, popularity or recognition. The purpose of photography is to tell a story, to highlight it in a way that captures the imagination, causes one to stop and consider for a moment or it enables a change to happen in some small way. It should evoke a respone or emotion in the viewer and possibly make them reconsider what they thought they already knew.

Although photography could be considered an art form I don’t believe it is enough just to create a beautiful photo unless it has some other purpose. Now maybe that purpose is simply that the creator enjoys the process and I have no issue with that. We all need our therapy. For me, photography is just the medium to tell stories and the stories I intend to tell going forward will not be about pretty places or my ‘fantastic Instagram worthy life’ but of people and their struggles as well as those of our planets animals and environments.

The poverty and inequality that I see everyday in the Philippines is like an amplified version of the same inequalities found in the West. The divergence here is that it often means the difference between getting an education or not, eating or not, being subjected to abuse or not, getting justice or not and at the extreme, life and death. At the same time I see humanity’s almost total disregard or care for the environment and other animals that inhabit our planet. Resources are used and abused, things no longer of use are tossed aside with total disregard for the impact it is having on our planet. There are many deep rooted causes for these attitudes but at the crux of it, it is very difficult for someone to consider the well being of the planet or its creatures when they are worried whether they have anything to eat for dinner and may not even be aware of the impact of their actions because they have not received education on this topic.

In the future I plan to search out these stories and use my photography to observe and highlight them in my own small way. Whether that makes a difference is yet to be seen, but if it changes the outcome even just for one child here I’ll have made a difference and that’s all I can ask.

I will still be doing camera and lens reviews but only if and when I have something of note to say having used it extensively in the field.

Published by

David

I've been a photographer and gear nut for over 10 years. My images have been in galleries, magazines, national newspapers and on stock sites. I have shot everything from camera phones to 4x5 film and love any tools that make photography easier or more fulfilling.

4 thoughts on “What is the point of Photography these days?”

  1. Wow, what an emotive, thoughtful statement.
    I’m 28 years older than you and experienced much of what we see today 50 years ago. I grew up in and still live in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland. For thirty years from 1968 – 98 we endured ‘The Troubles’. In twentyfive years of peace we have not moved as far as we could and should. In many ways we are still polarised along religious grounds. This has been the norm here for centuries but we have to keep moving forward, even when we regress, because we can never stop striving to eradicate the pain and suffering we inflict on each other.
    I use this as an analogy of what we face in the wider world.
    As long as there are people like you in the world then there is hope. I’m extremely lucky to be a Grandfather and have just the most amazing relationship with our nine year old grandson. We share a passion for photography. So much so that we’ve bought home a Fujifilm X100V which he will get on his next birthday. I chose that model specifically because I wanted him to have a self contained camera that he does not find daunting. One that is not about more and more lenses. One with analogue controls that will allow him to appreciate and understand the actual process of taking a photograph.
    My philosophy is that children should be encouraged at every opportunity to feel no fear, to have confidence, to know its okay to fail and start again.
    Our current politicians in Government serve us abysmally. Millionaires telling us what families can live on is worse than disgraceful. I firmly believe that every elected MP should be required to live on that sum of money for the full five year term of Parliament in social housing that they deem acceptable for those at the bottom of the social strata to occupy. Give them a taste of the realities of life.
    Freedom from the EU will inevitably see Britain’s place in the world diminish over time, as will our influence. Even the might Roman Empire imploded.
    You are so right in everything you say and there is so much that I could add but I would be here all night.
    By all means do what you can through your photography. There is much in this world hiding in plain sight that needs addressing and promoting that others might become aware of injustices, inequalities, suffering and starvation.
    You daughter will.learn by your example to never give up, never stop trying, never stop striving to make this planet a better environment for us all.
    Never, ever doubt yourself.
    Stay safe.

    1. Hi JJ,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I very much appreciate them.

      I couldn’t agree more that politicians should have to experience the realities of their decisions. I’ve said for a long time that they are so far removed from the reality of the average persons life that they are entirely unqualified to make decisions which impact them. A perfect example of this can be seen at the start of lockdown where they immediately approved legislation increasing their allowances to enable remote working, yet thought that patronising NHS workers (the ones really affected with increased workload and strain) with a round of applause every Thursday would suffice rather than a pay rise. Next time the politicians increase their pay I think we should instead offer them a round of applause (wholly undeserved) instead. Perhaps in their lucrative second jobs they would also prefer a round of applause instead of huge salaries.

      Our education system does not encourage failure to be seen in a positive light. At the age of 6-7 children are already being exposed to tests and examinations which segregate and categorise them as successful or not, smart or not, the top of the class or not etc. In my opinion, failure in life is key to success because those who fear failure do not dare to reach for success. I always tell my daughter that getting something wrong is fine (as long as you learn from it), in fact it can be good because it teaches you another way that something doesn’t work which will enable you to find what does work.

      I think the X100V is an excellent choice for your intended purpose. I’m sure with your guidance he will develope an understanding and appreciation for photography along with the ability to see images that others cannot. I used an earlier model X100T for a year or two as my only camera and never felt limited by it. The removal of lens choice freed my mind to concentrate on composition etc.

      I wish you and your grandchild many happy and enjoyable moments together in the future.

  2. Well said – in all aspects. I was born only 15 years after the end of the Second World War, 1960, just about when (Sir) Donald McCullin started his career. A few years ago I saw his exhibition in the Tate and found it unspeakably moving and emotional to see some of the utterly dreadful events that have happened in this “modern age”, my lifetime, innumerable wars and conflicts, droughts, famines, neglect of those who need etc, etc. There is true power in photojournalism. As most of us all post the same old, same old inane stuff online, the hard truths of the world are slowly becoming less prominent and I’m sure there are collections of “elite” humans in governments everywhere who like it that way.
    I really worry about our grandchildren’s futures and those of the peoples of a slowly but surely changing planet Earth. We all could learn from Sir Don, Sebastian Selgado et al, but today’s “influencers” seem to me to have a sadly different motive.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your kind words and comments. I believe todays ‘influencers’ would sell their granny for the right price. The hideous way that they advertise products really gets on my nerves. There’s a great (rude but funny) guy on Youtube who says exactly what I’m sure most of us are thinking a lot of the time when we see these vacuous souls. I think his name is Joey B. You know what, I just quickly found the link for you. Sometimes, when I really want to scream at these people I give him a quick watch for a laugh and to be reminded that we’re not all like that 😀 https://youtu.be/iik6btbRXsw

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