Why Do We Take Photos

  • Updated September 16, 2021
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Alfred Eisenstaedt once said that “When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” This quote by a German-born American professional photographer conveys a bold belief that photography is more than just clicking the shutter and looking the world through a small lens. So, what then is the purpose of photography? Susan Sontag, a human rights activist, presents an argument in her short article “Why We Take Pictures”, that photography can be both a defense against anxiety and a powerful tool. Sontag supports this argument primarily through her telling and analysis of the history and the traditional utilization of cameras, and how they have changed throughout the centuries.

First, she claims that the early use of photography was mainly about social events such as family gathering, birthdays, portraits and capturing the enjoyable moments of family members and friends. Sonntag also said that “pictures give people an imaginary possession of an unreal past” in the meaning of photographs are a powerful tool which can tell the past (Sontag 354). Moreover, she addresses the use of cameras while traveling as a symbol, or a representation of documenting the trip and the experiences as a way to assuage one’s anxiety. In a like manner, I believe that the use of cameras/photographing in this modern world is far complex than it used to be. Photography can be a powerful tool which grabs the attention of people to let them see the reality of the world which words cannot simply describe. It can also be a defense against one’s hidden complexes or ambiguous desires that cause insecurity in people.

As mentioned above with my justifications, the right picture taken at the right moment can be more powerful than a person giving a speech in front of a thousand people. One of the famous saying in the English language “A picture is worth a thousand words” is indeed irrefutable. Photography can be a universal language that allows people in the world to raise awareness about corruptions, inequity, starvation, news and different perceptive about lives around the world that people are not mindful about. For example, a photo of a famine-stricken child from South-Africa, barely surviving, facing his head downwards to the lifeless ground while being stalked by a vulture, taken by a photographer named Kevin Carter, revealed the story of an unforgiving truth about life.

The photo went viral, which eventually opened the eyes of ignorance people. Carter’s photo allows millions of people to feel a second-hand experience of what is like to be in that child’s position, and therefore, people become aware of famine and starving people in Africa to donate them foods and supplies. Carter made a huge impact on the consciousness of the planet. Using photography as a tool, a single photo can reach a million of people, a single photo can create a major discussion about climate change on earth, a single photo can make a change for a better society.

Not only can photography be a powerful tool for communication and transmission of messages, but it can also be a way of preventing or protecting against insecurity. Despite the use of photos as a way of freezing and re-experiencing moments, many people today post photos via social media to hide their anxiety. According to scientific and psychological analysis from Harvard University, by looking at photos from social media, some doctors can diagnose the person’s insecurity, loneliness, and overall depression accurately.

Psychologists also say that most depressed people tend to post photos in much darker or bluer color than normal individuals. It was found that some students are using photos as a way to defend against anxiety by posting group photos, selfies, and some “living happily posts”. In fact, the reality behind the photos is that most of the people are lonely and depressed. A former Cornell student, Jenna said: “When I posted it, I subconsciously hoped that if I could convince others I was happy, then maybe I could believe it myself.” Although one can argue that photography causes anxiety and it does not truly prevent angst, it protects people against the severe consequences of actions that they could have done if posting photos was not an option. In other words, photography gives people the opportunity to project the life they want to be and not who they are today; this could be a way of defending against anxiety, as it allows people to neglect their insecurity and synthesized happiness.

By the same token, when I press my phone’s home button, I have a picture of my family as wallpaper. The picture was taken at the airport before I moved to the United States. I set it as a wallpaper, just because all the family members were there, and I simply love it. As time passed, I discovered that it was not just a picture to freeze time. Whenever I look at the picture of my family, it takes me to the same day and relives the experience. It makes me feel sad and powerful. The logic may seem pretty oxymoronic, but I believe that the photo has helped me overcome many struggles.

It reduces my anxiety and gives me a sense of belonging in this country where people do not speak the same language as I do. If I ever got depressed, I would look at the picture with a sad smile and it shows my little sister shouting at me in the hope that I would come home with a lot of snacks, and my mother waving at me while hiding her tears. Those moments have motivated me to study hard and push myself to obtain my dream of becoming a neuroscientist. I believe photography is more than just observing a recorded point in time or a documentation. Undeniably, a photograph can trigger a person’s deepest emotional reactions and shows a sense of power.

Cite this paper

Why Do We Take Photos. (2021, Sep 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/why-do-we-take-photos/

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