The Purpose of Art

As we get rolling into the new year I’ve spent the last week or so thinking about why I photograph and what purpose it serves.

Agnes DeMille, the noted choreographer was quoted as saying:

‘We are a pioneer country. If you can’t mend a roof with it, if you can’t patch a boot with it, if you can’t manure a field with it or physic your child with it it’s no damn good.’

Presumably she said this out of frustration with a sociey that doesn’t respect the arts. I certainly grew up in that kind of environment and it leaves me feeling a little self indulgent when I jaunt off to make photographs since my photography does none of these things.

When I truthfully answer the question why do I photograph the answer is simply because it makes me feel good and fills a void that otherwise is difficult to fill. Perhaps this falls into the category of ‘physic’? I would argue that it does.

Even if art, photography in this case, doesn’t serve one of the purposes on Agnes DeMille’s list it does serve a number of important functions that include to surround us with beautiful things, to fill us with a sense of awe of the world around us, to shine a light into the dark places and bring those topics into the public eye. These functions need not exist in isolation, for example environmental groups have used beautiful landscape imagery to provoke discussion around conservation issues.

While I’m happy to make photographs that I like to look at and go well with the couch I have yet to make the connection between my photography and a bigger purpose. It’s something that I increasing want to do and will look for opportunites in 2015 that fit with my interests.

How about you? Why do you create? Is it aligned with a bigger purpose? I’d be delighted to hear your story.

Friday Inspiration: Robert Glenn Ketchum

Robert Glenn Ketchum has been described by American Photo magazine as ‘the most influential photographer you’ve never hear of‘.

Ketchum has used his photography to champion environmental awareness much like his friend and mentor Eliot Porter had done. He has worked to shine a spotlight on areas as diverse as the Hudson River Valley, California’s Big Sur coast, Alaska’s Tongass rainforest, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Valley and, most recently, to Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska. His work in Bristol Bay is in opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine which given it’s location would likely have a dramatic impact on the salmon fisheries in that area.

Beyond his environmental activism, Ketchum continues to explore the possibilities of the digital darkroom. Watch him describe some of his digital creations below.

Interview of Robert Glenn Ketchum from Robert Glenn Ketchum on Vimeo.