The word "photography" comes from the Greek phrase “Drawing the Light”. We all know that photography in the 19th century was cumbersome and time-consuming, and required technicians trained in the art form. But the photograms and photographs taken in those decades have provided an incredible and invaluable window into life back then. Color photos began to be produced by the mid 1880's and the first widely-used color process hit the market in 1907.
When cameras were developed that used roll film, photography became more widespread and amateurs were able to experience the joy of the hobby. Some were good enough or wealthy enough to go pro, which required more elaborate and expensive equipment. That's still somewhat true today, with the biggest difference between talented amateurs and professional photojournalists being the cost of their camera ensemble. Of course, today nobody uses film. For the younger readers, film was a medium that was placed inside of the camera, which was subjected to the light from the camera lens to produce either a film negative or slide positive image. Film then had to be developed to produce paper photographs. Now, the use of digital photography is prevalent everywhere -- cameras, phones, watches, tablets, even dashboards in cars and trucks.
Photographs, whether paper or digital, are useful for documenting family history and events, for capturing memorable times and places, for documenting a person's life from birth to death. It is also quite valuable in capturing moments in nature, often providing views few individuals would ever otherwise see. Landscapes, cityscapes, oceanscapes, and skyscapes make up an incredible library of earth-based galleries, and for the past 50 years, outer space has provided a plethora of planet shots and other scenes from the universe.
I once wrote a blog piece about why I prefer still photos over video. (See "In many ways, photos can offer more than video") In that article I explain that video is spoon-fed to viewers, always making them focus on the movement and thinking about what the videographer intends. Photographs give a viewer time to think, time to explore the picture, time to remember similar sights, time to see what they can see. Even though I've been recording video lately, I continue to feel it's true.
My favorite? I love historic photos and magnificent landscapes, and I love to shoot abandoned buildings, birds, wildflowers, sunrises, sunsets and vivid shots of nature. I like family photos for their nostalgia, but still prefer nature.
As usual, several of my friends and followers have offered their opinions and memories on this topic. Here are some of the great comments I received (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Shelley A.- I like the memories, although I rarely take photos.
Cindy V.- Love the unique. Ones that only an artist sees the beauty.
Jeanne W.- Photos take me back to times of joy and fun. They also keep me connected in a way to family and friends who are far from me. Seeing their pictures connects me emotionally with them and usually thoughts of love and good times. Of course they sometimes bring back sad times as well, times of regret. But all of that is part of life and photos remind me of a life well lived.
Sharon M.- My family has always taken photographs of everything, a big part of my life. I only realized just how important those photographs were after losing almost all of my family photographs in a fire. The only 'survivors' were in a box of loose photos/negatives and miscellaneous items that got put in the travel trailer rather than the storage unit they were supposed to have been in. I truly treasure those few photos and am so thankful for those survivors. My favorite, I think ... my grandfather, when he was 80 years old, on the last horse he had raised and trained at the ranch. I would have been 12 when I took his picture with my first camera, a Brownie box camera.
Andrea A.- I love people photos. They're a timeline for the ones I know, giving insight to who we were in the former stages of our lives. They're often a vision of human emotion and experience, even of people I've never met. Portraits can capture joy, pain, love, grief, kindness, evil, despair, strength with no words necessary.
Cathy R.- I have a favorite pic of my youngest. It was when she was finally healed after her kidney transplant. Such joy!
Tony P.- I love the landscapes that I shoot, a reminder of where I've been. Sunrise's and Sunsets, like one particularly beautiful sunrise on Key Largo back in November.
Nadyne H.- Photos that are current - our kids, grandkids, great grandkids - whether current or from the past, bring me immediate happiness. I find myself smiling so hard it almost hurts. That immediate joy is especially important to me now with all the uncertainty in my life. Photos from my past of my parents, siblings, grand parents, cousins, aunts and uncles give me a nostalgic peace. Happy memories yes, but also can bring me some sadness as I miss those people and the times we spent together.
L.D. Clark- Remembering how much of it I remember since I was a child 70 yrs ago.
BLSMSS- Looking at older pictures makes me happy that I had the picture to bring back those happy times of who I was with and what I was doing -- seeing joy, fun and adventure with my family and friends. It also brings a sadness of who I have lost in those pictures, but great memories.
Kevin, Yvonne & 4 Doxies- Looking at the pictures evoke memories of the time the picture was taken, usually good memories
Tami and Barry “Cruising in Our Cabin”- When I look at a photo of days of old, it draws me right back to the sounds and smells of that moment, me in my scarf, the squeal I made when I caught my first fish, the smell of that fish on my hands, and how gross it was to gut it. The memories just flood back in and it’s as if it just happened yesterday. Yes, a photograph really is worth more than a thousand words.
Habadabeer- My favorite photos are the ones that captured moments I’d completely forgotten. The sudden “oh my God!” moment of shock of surprise and is for me as joyful and precious as an uncontrolled belly laugh! It beats the typical nostalgic reaction hands down.
TheClearyClan- Pictures can be sorted into two categories: 1) pictures you take, so your memories, and 2) pictures others take. The second category could be news photos, historic photos, other people's vacation photos (all 10,000 from the last two weeks that YOU WILL SEE after dinner). For me the pictures I take help refresh memories. Pictures others take I find interesting because they take me to places and times I have not been.
Maui_Boy (Earl J.)- My love of photography began in 1973 as a means to document places and events that I visit with my wife-to-be... It has grown to be helping others share and remember their own adventures since I have grown to love capturing images of people having fun and offering to share it with them... for free. I call myself a Good Will Documentarian, but not accepted by all, it appears.
My initial visit to Brandon, Florida, to visit with my daughter and grand-daughter, took me to a public park where I offered my photos to a young couple with three or four children having a grand time. They took exception to my efforts, called the police and demanded I delete the photos from my camera. A policeman arrived and tried his best to walk me to my car, but I stood my ground and indicated I'd rather stay. He tried his best to get me to admit it was a bit creepy, except that I was wearing an international orange long-sleeved shirt, a photo vest, and carrying a DSLR with a 200 mm lens on a monopod. So, yes, I admitted that it might seem creepy to some but anyone who saw me shouldn't have had any doubt about why I was there. He finally left me alone and had to exit the park with me accompanying him. My granddaughter and I met that same officer in a sandwich shop later in the day. In our banter I told him that I had finally figured out why the couple had reacted as they did. The park I was in was a park for disabled and handicapped kids. He didn't realize that himself. I told him I'd find another park... so, no more calls about me, in that park anyhow.
There is no one better to quote about photography than the ultimate landscape photographer and environmentalist, Ansel Adams: "To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things."
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.