Photography and the Photographer: A step into the boxed maze

The Image World

We live in a world where every aspect of our lives is documented, our birth, our death, our happiness, sorrow, accomplishments and failures, our hope and our despair. Everything from what we eat, wear, the car we drive and the home we own or rent is documented in photographs.

Like it or not, we live in an Image World – a world otherwise known as Photography. And in this image world of photography, there is an estimated 1.8 billion images that are uploaded everyday online (KPCB, Meeker. 2014) and perhaps just as many are found in home albums, wall hangings, phones, galleries, buildings, stores, on billboards, and clothing. If we don’t recognise photography’s significant influence and the cultural changes it has on our society, we’re ignoring the new way in which we are communicating. We are essentially, missing the opportunity to expand the context in which we disseminate and consume photographs. An opportunity to redefine how we learn as a collective, and as an individual. Knowledge of photography can create a deeper, global dialogue of understanding, tolerance, and ultimately peace.

Boulevard du Temple, Paris 1838 by Louis Daguerre depicts the earliest known image of a human.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons. Louis Daguerre [Public domain])

Photography’s Legacy

Photography’s invention and its subsequent rapid success were rooted in its ability to capture reality and truth. When Dominique François Arago claimed photography for France, he heralded it as both a science, and an art (Barrett 2012: 160). William Fox Talbot described photography as ‘the pencil of nature’ (2012: 161), an analogy that certainly continues to ruffle some artists of the painting.

Photography’s legacy has been subjected to perpetual debate regarding what it is and what it is not. Its artistic lineage has been ardently questioned, its journalistic proprieties used as symbols of political discourse. Photography has captured mug shots of those arrested, the stoic faces of passport applicants, the hope of asylum seekers, and milestone moments in modern history, along with our cherished moments with loved ones or alone.

Defining the photographer

Behind every camera, whether triggered by a remote device or the push of a finger, there is always a photographer, an imagemaker ensuring its goal to capture is achieved. To say, “I am a photographer” is not for the faint hearted. As a photographer, how we define ourselves, our practice, goes way beyond a technique, subject matter, or equipment. Defining the photographer, encompasses all things and the idea of nothing. And while modern day photographers are many a dozen, in some aspects it’s as magical as it was, when Henry Fox Talbot, Louis Daguerre, Nicéphore Niépce and Hippolyte Bayard began their journey as photographers during the first quarter of the 19th century. These men of lens created images from something.

MONET, Claude. 1876. La Japonaise, Madame Monet en costume japonais

oil on canvas 231.8 × 142.3 cm (91.3 × 56 in)

Today photographers create images from everything. The great pioneers of photography battled with limitations, today’s pioneers battle with excesses. How to define ourselves, our craft is not without uncertainty, reluctance or hesitation. Are you the photographer, a distinct, uncorrupted representation of yourself? Is your image really your own, because you had a thought and pushed a button? When Yousuf Karsh brought us the powerful image of Winston Churchill, and Philippe Halsman creations with Salvador Dali, and Man Ray dressed Marcel Duchamp as a woman and gave us Rrose Selavy, how much of them did we implant inside ourselves? The paintings created by Rembrandt, Gauguin, Duchamp, Picasso, Sisley and Monet, how much of what we viewed became part of what we wanted to reproduce or remodel in photography? How have the words of Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde influence our conceptual ideas in photography?

To define who we are as photographers is like dissecting a thousand frogs, the more you do it, the better you become at the process, except of course, you risk the possibility of becoming indifferent and the magic can be lost. Those who do not become indifferent, expand their knowledge of the frogs from within on a highly sophisticated level that has its own pros and cons.

Defining me the photographer

In my own practice as a photographer, I approach photography partly with an instinctive reaction to what’s inside the frame, and a conscious understanding of my subject and its context. My approach to photography can also be a knee jerk moment where clicking without a concise thought manifesting is most important. Or it could be a ritual of checks and rechecks, doubts or bewilderment. My approach can also be one of great passion, excitement, philosophical coding, technical clarity, a perfect merging of subject, ideas, light and skills. This approach to my photography is what l strive to be every day and I'm happy believing that l might get it right at least once. I can provide perhaps several other ways in which l define myself as a photographer, these definitions as a collective, creates a sense of schizophrenic state but l am not alone.

All over the world photographers battle the need to define and defend our craft, our art. We try to protect both our best images and what is considered our worse. When we do share an image with the public, we share it with a purpose, to show the creation of the mind, the body and the box, to feed the ego, to console the cognitive dissonance – a term psychologists use to explain the simultaneous holding of two opposing thoughts with equal uncertainty with hope that an external intervention will reassure the mind of its earlier viewpoint that was doubted by the proceeding alternative view.

If there was any doubt of photography being an art, we just have to look at the similarities between the writer, painter, sculptor to find the photographer in each.


BARRETT, Terry. 2012. Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to understanding images (5th ed.).

New York: McGraw-Hill.

KHEDEKAR, Naina. 2014. We now upload and share over 1.8 billion photos each day: Meeker Internet report – Tech2 [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 2 December 2016, and 25 March 2017]

#TerryBarrett #ManRay #FalmouthUniversity #falmouthuniversity #ClaudeMonet #MarcelDuchamp #mainphotography #MaryMeeker #NainaKhedekar #MODULE1WEEK7 #MARCH

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