Why do We Love Photography So Much?


We Love Photography – You love Photography It's why we're here reading this blog. Right? But, what is the story behind that love affair?

Photography – The Early Years

why do we love photography
Geronimo – Photograph courtesy of publicdomainreview.org

The origin of photography is credited to Thomas Wedgwood who developed the first working camera and the creation of permanent images in 1790. The coining of the word, “Photography”, has been attributed to Sir John Herschel and dates back to 1839. Along the way various other inventors, such as  Joseph Nicéphore NiépceLouis Daguerre, and  William Henry Fox Talbot contributed to the development of the photographic process. It was  George Eastman, who in 1888, refined and automated the technology with the development of gel on paper, (film), that brought photography into the emerging modern world . At this point, photographic imaging no longer required a photographer to carry large quantities of heavy photographic plates and toxic chemicals.  Then, in 1901, Eastman Kodak introduced the Kodak Brownie Camera and photography went mainstream.

Why do we love photography
Bombing raid over Hamburg, Germany. Photography courtesy of publicdomainreview.org

In the early years, the public's fascination with photography centered on news and travel. People wanted to see life outside of their small circle of influence. Toward the end of the 1950's and going into the 1960's photography gained popularity as a means of recording our own lives. This trend was popularized by photo-centric magazines, such as Life Magazine, Look Magazine, and National Geographic which specialized in slice-of-life photo essays. The gaining popularity of photography was also enhanced by dropping prices for both film, and cameras, as well as an increased ease of use.

Anyone remember the drive-thru Fotomat booths?

why we love photography
Abandoned FotoMat Booth. Photograph by SL Tompkins

Today, a state-of-the-art camera, one that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago, can be had for less than two hundred dollars (USD).

But, what we REALLY want to discuss is where our love for photography began and where your love affair with photography occurred.

Why do we love photography
This photograph of the author's sister was taken when he was 14 years old.

Our love affair with photography began in 1974. It was our freshman year of high school. We took an elective class titled, Basic Photography. In our very first session, the teacher, a man by the name of Mr. Madsen, took the entire class outside to a courtyard filled with trees and grass.  He announced that he was going to show us the importance of lighting by taking a portrait of a student, and then, we would process the Kodak Plus-X film together. He picked a student, a girl by the name of Joan, and told us he was going to take two ‘natural light' portraits of her. “Tomorrow,” he announced, we will process prints. And, you will learn what light means to a photograph.

Mr. Madsen shot an entire roll of film on Joan. For half of it, he placed her in the open midday sun. For the other half, he placed her in the shade of a tree.

We all trudged back inside and processed the film.

The next day Mr. Madsen, took us into the darkroom, and we printed each version of Joan's portraits. This is where the magical moment happened for us. Those images emerged from the chemistry, and we were awestruck by how darn good Joan looked in the picture under the tree; she looked better than in real life. We were also amazed at how bad she looked in the direct sunlight; it had emphasized every bad feature the poor girl had.

That moment started a love affair with photography that has lasted 39 years. And it's still going strong!

Here are a few of the reasons that we love photography so very much

Trucker – Yakima, Washington Photograph by Kent DuFault

Photography is a portable medium – It allows virtually anyone to express their creativity. This is especially true in today's digital environment, where the cost of entering and maintaining the hobby is within everyone's reach. As a child growing up, we were always creative. But we had difficulty finding a way to express it. We couldn't sing or play a musical instrument. And, don't even think about putting a pencil, or a paintbrush in our hands. We even tried pottery once; our creations were lopsided pieces that only a mother could love. But, photography was our medium, it was something we could do well, and we went after it with a vengeance. Within months, we had purchased a camera and darkroom equipment with our savings. We became Mr. Madsen's teaching assistant, and by the end of high school we were teaching his class for him.  We will never forget the twisted look on his face, ( Mr. Madsen being a traditionalist, and not very experimental), when we showed him the portrait of our sister holding the magnifying glass.

But, he beamed with pride when that image won a local photo contest at the newspaper.

How does the love affair with photography serve us throughout our lives?

Why do we love photography
Dustin / Age Three Photograph by Kent DuFault

Photography allows us to record the memories of our children – And, we don't mean a snapshot at a birthday party. We mean images that we created, have personal investment in, and therefore they have special meaning. The photograph of Dustin, (the author's son) was taken on Easter morning in 1987. He was three years old. He sat by a window waiting for us to depart for church. He is now 29 years old. We have an emotional investment in this photograph. Without it, we wouldn't remember that day at all: his smile, his clothes, the room, the weather… This photograph has permanently embedded that moment into our life.

Why we love photography
Amalfi, Italy Photograph by Kent DuFault

Photographs allows us to record places we've been – This is especially important when we travel to locations that we most likely will never return to.  In 1995, we went to Amalfi, Italy. In our memory, it was one of the most magical places on earth. It seemed stuck in time. The people, the architecture, the landscape, and all the colors (of everything) were a photographer's dream. The photograph of the perfume shop serves as testament to ourselves that we once stood there and took it all in.

why we love photography
Father and Son sailing. Photograph by Kent DuFault

Photos allow us to share our intimate moments. Life skips past us in the blink of an eye: people come and go, we change jobs, locations, hobbies, lovers… Photographs allow us to return to a moment. The stimulus of physically viewing a scene buried in our past will cause even more memories to bubble to the surface. Those memories may be good, and make us smile, or, they may be bad and make us cry. But it's the emotion of feeling those memories, no matter what they are, that let's us know we're alive.

Photography can be a lifelong friend!

We would love to hear your stories. What event caused you to fall in love with photography? What is your favorite photographic moment. What does photography mean to you? Please, upload an image as well: something you're particularly proud of, or, one that stimulates a strong emotion from you.

About Author

Kent is an occasional writer at our place, and also handles the weekly “Picture of the Week” contest. He has been involved with photography since 1974 and you can get to know him better here.

Thanks for the comment! I have a very large Giclee’ print of that image hanging in the living room. It’s always an attention grabber.

I always love photography since early in elementary school, thanks to my Dad! But what struck me the most from your article is the fact that I just lost my sister only a week ago due to her terminal illness, and realized that only have a handful decent pictures of her – thanks to my portable HDD malfunction. Sigh.. But thanks anyway, a very good article, nice to be thought to, and lovely pictures, of course. Really love the Italy one.

Thanks for the comment, Cahyo. Several years ago I lost almost three years worth of pictures to a dead hard drive. It was brand new. I used it about six times, one of which was to back up all those pictures and delete them off the computer. It never occurred to me that a drive could die that quickly. The cost of attempted recovery was huge and there were no guarantees. I accepted the loss and moved on. But, I learned my lesson. Everything gets backed up onto multiple locations now. Sorry about the loss of your sister. I understand. I lost my father in January.

I didn’t really fall in love with photography until I was in my late 20s. At that point I took some photography classes.

I started out with film and still feel wistful to this day when I break open my big box of personal history and hold those slides in my hands.

For me photography is about many things…documenting what is going on, immortalizing my children and capturing the visual art that is all around me.

I often feel like I’m the only one in the room who “sees” the mundane as worthy of serious photographic attention!

Oh Rachael… we are souls cut from the same cloth. I also feel that sense of isolation from the general population when it comes to my artistic obsessions. Thanks for commenting!

I am a 37 year old Fine Art Photography student at Curtin University Western Australia. I have been doing photography for over 20 years and its become an obsession.
Thank you for all your very informative article’s.
p.s Hard drive caddy is awesome and fast to do multiple backups on, using multiple hard drives.

I’m a father who started out taking lots of point and shoot pictures of my kiddoes on our outings. Over time I started to appreciate the art and beauty of photography and have been seeking to improve it as my personal craft ever since.

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