Photography: What It Means To Us
An ARTicle by Lucien Whitworth, co-chair of the Committee 2020/2021
I won’t pretend that I am a photographer, and I certainly won’t claim to be any good at taking photos.
However, I do enjoy my photography, relishing in the form’s apparent immediacy, its immense creativity, and transparent qualities. It communicates the inexpressible; transcending the limitations of words to provide a glimpse into a memory bound up in a still frame.
However, I have realised over the past couple of years that I take lots of photos and never really do anything with them; only ever storing them in a digital album, never to be looked at again. It got me thinking about what it actually means to engage with photography: was it just a means of preoccupation, validating our presence in a certain place at a specific time? Was it a way of remembering; a physical means through which we hold onto the past? Or was it something
immeasurably personal, illuminating subtleties about ourselves?
I was fortunate enough to have a few months away travelling last year. Equipped with my woefully inadequate iPhone and my £30 Minolta SLR film camera, I managed to collate an arsenal of shots from various places around the globe. Having reflected on my time away, and having looked back over the photos I took, I settled on the idea that photography creates a rich tapestry of memory; patchworks of the original, but nonetheless intimations of a past reality. I also realised that photography was, ultimately, a very private form of art, with images reflecting something of the photographer themselves. There is always a conscious decision behind taking a photo, and a series of processes that leads to a picture.
This is why, when I set up an Instagram page a few months ago to show some of my photos, I found the process of opening up your own work to the judgements of others initially anxiety-inducing. The uncertainty of how your photos would be received by a potentially reducing and critical public audience was perhaps why I had not done this before – humiliation was always a possibility.
But the initial fear was really caused by something else. It was anxiety; the apprehension over posting a photo - loaded with emotion and intimately bound up with the photographer themselves - onto a public platform; elucidating what is, innately, quite a personal phenomenon. Vladimir Nabokov once said that “A work of art has no importance whatever to society. It is only important to the individual”, and he was right. The importance of the artwork should remain unaltered with the photographer, in spite of its reception. Its value should endure.
So with Nabokov at my side, I embarked on a mission to discover what photography really meant to us: as possessors, as curators, as users and as subjects. I wanted to see if my photos remained as they always had been to me when cast off into the waters of an ever-expanding public gaze.