Photograph by Mark D. Whitney
Artist: Mark D. Whitney
Media: Digital Photograph

Why Bother?

The other day I was surfing around the web and saw a question on a forum that caught my eye. I don’t remember the exact wording but it went something like this: “No one is interested in my art so why should I even bother doing it?” I’ve seen questions like this before and the very same thought has crossed my mind way more that once.

Why do I create photographs?

I’ve been taking photographs on and off since I was a kid which is a lot longer ago that I care to think about. I’ve had a website and been writing a blog about art and photography for what, 12 or 15 years, maybe more – time flies. When I could afford it, I’ve run a gallery/studio to display and sell my work. I’ve entered juried art shows and have had a bit of success.

But I still have a day job. The few prints I sell here and there do not come close to paying the bills. My blog gets a dozen or so visits a week if I’m lucky. I have an Instagram account that has roughly a hundred followers. In short my art is not exactly lighting the world on fire.

To be honest it does get disappointing sometimes when I see the attention that other photographers get. They travel the world shooting icebergs in the Arctic, monks in Tibet, or the street scene in New York. They have thousands of followers on their media accounts. They have big name sponsors pampering them. They can afford equipment so expensive that I don’t even think about ever owning anything like it. It can be really frustrating.

So why do I do it?

For one there is that little spark in the back of my mind that thinks someday I’ll be discovered. Some powerful art patron will discover my work, be totally amazed, and whisk me off to the big city to make me a star. I expect there are a lot of waitstaff at restaurants all over Hollywood that have similar dreams. Not bloody likely.

For another I still do it because I can’t not do it. I just like photography. I like art. I like combining the two. As Garry Winogrand once said “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” I love to look at things and see what they look like in a photograph. Even during times when I can’t afford a camera or my life is too busy to spare time to shoot, I can’t stop. I can’t stop looking at things and imagining what I could do with that scene.

I often take a short walk during my lunch hour at work just to ward off DVTs and get out of my cubical and get some sunshine in my eyes. Everything looks like a photograph to me. I never have a camera with me, but my walks always become a series of images. I can’t help it. I don’t know if it’s a natural tendency or if over the years I’ve just trained myself to do it. It just happens.

For another I love looking at art by other artists. Looking at great works of art anytime is amazing. When I can bring my experiences as an artist along with me, it’s even better. I get so much more out of a trip to the museum. I can imagine myself in the shoes of the artist. I can feel the excitement, the work, the wonder, the satisfaction, the desire of the artist as they envision and then complete a work. The art comes alive.

One more reason for creating photographs is that I like them. Sure I hate 95% of all my pics, but there is always that 5% that I do like. I like looking at them. I like having them as my computer desktop background. I like seeing them hanging on the wall. A good baseball player fails to get a hit 70% of the time, but that other 30% keeps them going. Getting a two run double in a clutch situation is what makes all those lonely walks back to the dugout after strikeouts worth it.

Nothing makes me want to create more photographs than creating more photographs – getting out and shooting. When I get lost in the creative process and each shot follows the next and I see the images materialize as if my magic, I can’t remember why I ever thought of quitting. I want to keep doing this always.

Yes making art that nobody but yourself is interested in can be disheartening and make you want to quit, but if you are doing it for the right reasons you won’t stop. If you’re only doing it to make money or to become famous, well the chances of those things happening are pretty slim. On the other hand if you do it because you enjoy it and because it expands your view of the world and because you just can’t not do it, then shake off those blues and get to work.


Comments on "Why Bother?"

  1. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for this thoughtful, honest and inspiring post.

    I feel a lot of what you describe in relation to my writing, since I’m trying to expand beyond blogging. Recently, I was quite down about it. Then another day passes, and I realize it’s just feeling sorry for myself.

    I write because I want to, and for the satisfaction of arriving at some kind of expression of my particular truth. I have too much to be grateful about. And that will have to be enough.


  2. Thank you for writing this, I’ve been really weighed down and struggling with that question ‘Why bother’ and ‘what’s the point’. Your words have helped and encouraged me. Thank you. Really.

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