Snapshots and Art

I have been reading the book “Approaching Photography” by Paul Hill for the last couple of weeks. It’s a book that I dip into with a cup of coffee when I have a quiet moment. Hill explores the different genres and themes within photography and clarifies the theories and practicalities that are inherent within those genres. I think that I have made the book sound a little dry by that description – it isn’t. It’s written in a readable, entertaining style with excellent photographs that illustrate his points on every page.

There are many chapters in the book that have made me think about my photography and the aims and thought-processes behind my images, but it was part of the chapter, “The Photographer as Witness” that registered with me yesterday.

In this chapter, Hill expounds that even snapshots – those photographs that are not planned or taken with a view to future processing – are valuable records and …” can define our existence”. Hill says that the snapshot is always better or worse than you expected – never as you thought it would when you took the photograph. As you get better at photography, your photographs become more sophisticated and more planned – the immediacy and naivety disappear and some of that first magic and excitement goes.

I can particularly relate to this at present as I am in the middle of two major photography projects. One is to revamp my portfolio site and the other is to print examples of my work through the years. To do these I am looking through my images from 1983 to the present day and when I look at some of the earliest images I am immediately struck by a feeling of nostalgia. I can remember taking some of the 35mm transparencies from the 1980s and whilst I probably thought they were quite sophisticated back then, I realise now they were nothing but snapshots. But that doesn’t matter. They were of a time, my time, and my now wife’s time when we were in our twenties and everything seemed possible.

So snapshots have their place, as memories and as a record of the present time. Of course, we should make sure that our “serious” photography is the best it can be, but let’s not forget to record the memories.

“There is great pleasure and fulfilment to be found in making unaffected souvenirs”

Paul Hill – Approaching Photography


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