Musings on Photography

Who are photographs made for?

Posted in aesthetics, the art world by Paul Butzi on April 2, 2007

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Some time back, Tim Atherton asked in the comments on a post here “But, that aside, are photographs made for photographers or for people in general? “

I’ve been thinking about that comment for quite a while now. 

I’d observe that any individual photograph is probably made for multiple audiences.  Photographs are made with an audience of relatives, or people related to the scene.  Sometimes they’re made with a general audience – anyone who’s interested in city street life, for instance.  So it’s often very hard to generalize about the intended audience for photography as a general thing.

Despite this difficulty, I think there are two generalizations that can safely be made.

1.  Virtually every photograph made includes the photographer as an audience.  I think it’s the rare photographer who does not look at his/her own work at some point.  So the statement ‘Photographs are generally made for photographers’ would seem to be true.

This comes off as somewhat dismissive of the original concern, but I don’t think it really is.  Except for a very small fraction of photographers (e.g. professionals) one of the main goals a photographer has in mind when she sets out to make a photograph is the reward of engaging in the process.  Some folks make photographs because they want the end result (either to sell to a client, or to paste into their scrapbook) but the overwhelming majority of amateur photographers (and essentially ALL art photographers) make photographs because they enjoy making photographs.  And that’s a damn fine reason.

2.  Only a vanishly small fraction of the photographs made are made with art critics as the major intended audience.  I believe this says something fairly important about the role of art critics and art criticism in the world.

3 Responses

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  1. Gary Filkins said, on April 2, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Ahhhhhh … Thank you, Paul!

    I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of my photographs are made primarily for an audience of one – the person looking through the viewfinder. It’s not as if I don’t enjoy it when someone else connects with one of my photos, I simply don’t expect it, much less seek it. I’ve a website that languishes sometimes for weeks or months because some of the things I find fascinating to the point of obsession are of little or no interest to others who’ve seen and commented on them.

    I make them to make them … and yes, it’s nice if a few others enjoy them.

    But I’ll keep making them regardless . . .

  2. Darrell Klein said, on April 2, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    It was certainly unexpected but I found that when I concentrated on making photographs for me, I received more positive reactions from others.

  3. latoga said, on April 3, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Very interesting topic to muse on. Your musing brought to mind a Ralph Steiner quote that I saw on the FocalPower quote service:

    “Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity; be intensely yourself. Don’t try to be outstanding; don’t try to be a success; don’t try to do pictures for others to look at – just please yourself.”

    In the end, I think that all photographs are for the photographer. Which means, that as a photographer, you need to share all your work as you never know what will connect with the viewer.


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