Photographs do more than just capture a moment, they capture a specific period of time, a specific culture, setting, action, thought, vision and interpretation. They say a picture tells a thousand words because even with a thousand words, you could not adequately capture everything that single photograph encompasses.
When children look through boxes of black and white photographs of their grandparents, they don’t just see what they looked like, they deduce from facial expressions their feeling, they deduce fashion from their clothes, they induce states of laughter, waves of sadness, and moments of euphoria, all from the medium of portrait photography.
It shows what is important to our culture
Even without thinking, our photos show what is important to our culture. When we walk into a home and see a photo stuck to the refrigerator of a father and son holding a freshly caught fish, it shows that in this household’s culture, there is an emphasis on family, spending time together, perhaps the outdoors, interacting with nature, learning, teaching, and patience.
In this instance, the one photo captures a cultural narrative of that household. Now apply the same logic to hundreds of millions of photos taken across the globe each day and you get an insight into what is culturally important to our society.
It shapes our experiences
Our relationship with photography has become so intimate and entwined that the platform has shaped our experiences and interaction with the outside world.
We are constantly on the lookout for subjects to capture, and in the process, see and experience the world in a different way.
It allows us to communicate
Photography allows us to share what we find interesting about a scene. Our composition speaks to others and shows them exactly what we find beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. It allows us to share our own unique view of the world in a creative way, and this is important.
It has the power to change the world
There are several iconic photos that have had a profound impact on global culture. Nick Ut’s iconic photograph of a Vietnamese girl escaping a napalm attack is one such image. It fuelled anti-war sentiment in the United States and may have changed the course of history.
The places we share photography are culturally important too
Even the places we choose to share our photography is culturally important. We now have apps like Snapchat, where we can send an instantly disposable photo, something to be consumed then discarded. We have “stories” for photos that might have more to say and narrate our personal story. Then we have social media feeds like Instagram and Facebook, where we might put a permanent photo that we want to help shape our legacy.
These distinct differences have always been present. Photographers have taken photos that they wanted to consume then discard, photos that they may want to keep or mull over for a period of time, and photos that they wanted to keep forever and have shaped their legacy. But in the modern world, we have platforms explicitly designed for each purpose.
Thanks for stopping by today, I hope you have enjoyed this post on why photography is culturally important.
You can catch up with the rest of my photography posts here.
*This is a guest post