Often we feel like we need reasons why we take photos. We need a purpose; a sense of direction. But my tip for today is this: photograph for photography’s sake.
I feel that the most intrinsically rewarding types of activities are “autotelic” activities (activities which you do for the sake of it). “Auto” means doing something by yourself, and “telic” is derived from the Greek word “telos” which means goal.
So for “autotelic” activities the reward is the action itself. Meaning, if you photograph for photography sake; you don’t care about getting fame, popularity, or lots of social media “likes”. You make photos because it is intrinsically rewarding– you love the process of making photos.
Wikipedia has a more refined definition of “autotelic”:
A thing which is autotelic is described as “having a purpose in and not apart from itself”.
The journey is the reward
I remember my early goals in photography included having a solo exhibition, becoming “famous” (whatever that means), making a living from it, being able to travel, meet new people, and get free cameras.
I’ve accomplished all of these superficial goals in my photography, and I can tell you: “enough is never enough” and I’m still not happy or satisfied. Once I get any amount of “fame” I only become more envious and jealous of other photographers more famous than me. And with cameras, the next model always seems more appealing than what I currently have.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what my life’s purpose is, and what brings me true “happiness” in life. This might sound dull, but I’m only happy when I’m “working”; either if I’m writing (like I’m doing now), studying, or teaching. Nothing else gives me a “high” from being fully-engaged in work (except maybe a lovely single origin espresso, but that helps me focus and do work).
Anyways, the rewards of the work that I do is never as satisfying as the work itself. When I finish writing a new ebook, while I do appreciate others giving me thanks, I’m always happiest when I’m actually in the process of writing, rather than looking at the final result.
The same goes for photography; the process of going out to the streets, making photos, interacting with strangers, and so forth is far more rewarding than getting a good photo. Once I have the photo, I’m eager to go out and shoot more photos.
Like the cliche (but true) saying: “Your next photo is your best photo.”
Love being on the streets
So friend, I want you to meditate and think about how much you enjoy the process of shooting and being on the streets. Enjoy every step, every breath, every interaction, and every click of your shutter.
There is nothing more blissful than this (not even getting 1,000+ likes on social media).
About the author: Eric Kim is an international street photographer who’s currently based out of Berkeley, California. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.