In the movie, “The Matrix,” the character known as the Merovingian argues that the only real source of power is knowing the why of things. It is when we understand why we make a choice, or why things happen as they do, that we are best able to embrace the life we live. I’m not sure if knowing the why brings power or not, but I agree it is an important question to ask ourselves about many things in life, and that includes something as basic as photography. Growing as a photographer means more than learning new techniques or buying new equipment. An important part of being a photographer is understanding what drives you to create images in the first place.
For me, the answer to that question leads to a quote from C.S. Lewis. In his book, “Reflections on the Psalms,” while discussing the nature of beauty and man’s experience of it, Lewis says the following:
“Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it […] I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. […] The delight is incomplete till it is expressed.C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms Loc. 992-1001 (Kindle)
As I was thinking about why I enjoy photography, that statement came to mind. For me at least, it answers the question. Of course, my motivation isn’t monolithic, but I think this is what initially gave birth to my passion for photography and is largely what continues to drive that passion now. Photography is a way of sharing those things around us which inspire delight, awe, and praise. Whether it’s a grand landscape or a simple scene in one’s backyard, photography provides a way to share the experience with others. A photograph says, “I find pleasure in this, and I would like to share that pleasure with you.”
Why do I find pleasure in these things? That is a deeper question, but my faith plays an important role here. The Psalmist (upon whose writings Lewis was reflecting) speaking of God says, “Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Ps. 139:14) My faith in God is the philosophical lens through which I see everything, whether I’m looking at a natural landscape or the glow of city lights. The one speaks of an intricately designed universe, intended to seed joy in the soul of man and point back to its Creator. The other points to the Divine spark in each human; God’s image in us which drives us to understand the world and create for ourselves, even if we frequently misuse this gift. The world is born of an Artist, and therefore is infused with artistry in all directions. For me, that background knowledge infuses these experiences with even deeper delight and a greater desire to share with others.
As I said, my motivation is not monolithic. Photography also has a professional element for me in additional to this personal element, so things like doing a good job for the client or helping support my family play a role as well. I especially enjoy when my work can help others, such as the projects I’ve done in Aomori Prefecture. I have also photographed the brokenness of this world at times, and the importance of that is not lost on me. Photography can also be a way of mourning. But the reason I have a camera at all and still use it today – my key motivation in photographic creation – is this sense of sharing the delight of the world around me. I hope that people can experience at least a taste of that joy through my work.