Photography is not a language

I thought about what photography is for a long time, as many did before me and many will. Being a photographer, I thought about it as, I guess, all photographers do. Therefore what I thought maybe won’t be new, nor special.

The thing is, though, I find a common lack of faith in the future of photography itself. As technology advances, and as prices drop, more people try their first steps at our trade and we think that either they are completely at a loss of knowledge, or that said knowledge is becoming useless. We ask ourselves what will be of our very own trade, of our art.

I see fierce attacks on new trends, I hear strong opinions about the fundamentals and the good old days of the masters, but I do not think we are seeing clearly here. I think the point is missed, but not by much.

I think, and I may well be wrong, that photography is not a language. It has never been a language. My point is photography -is- language: it cannot be downgraded to a specific one without having a part of itself going missing.

I will try to elaborate.

As much as all of the different languages are, as a whole, the way we speak words, photography is made out of different photographic styles, genres, and interpretations.

As the verb is crucial in language, light is crucial in photography: the way we use everything else, though, depends on the type of picture we are going to take. The pictures may be languages, but photography as a whole remains language.

Languages have different styles, structures, syntax, tradition. Pictures do, too. Even verbs, in language, may be used differently in different languages, as much as light may be used differently by different photographers, or in different pictures.

Languages are in constant evolution, they are made by the living for their own needs. Languages evolve with culture. Languages are the result of people.

I will say it again, my point is photography is language and it is the result of people expressing their needs. As there are old, archaic, embellished languages, or feral, strong, guttural languages, there are new, weird, maybe simpler at a first glance but rich nonetheless young languages too. The same goes for photography.

To see photography as a specific language is to confine it within boundaries of our own choosing. That is not what photography is, and it is not in our power to define the limits of our trade. We make do with what we are given, which is light and a camera, and we create. We interpret. But this whole experience — creating, interpreting — completely misses on things we do not find interesting, we deem not necessary, or we do not see.

As I said before, I am most probably wrong. I do not have the experience nor the age to say anything final about this matter. But this I would like to say, as I think it is most certainly true: we photographers can all, by some degree, understand if a picture is good or bad. We have to, otherwise we cannot grow better at our trade. To truly judge the state of photography nowadays, though, we should first ask ourselves if we are able to see photography as a whole, or if we are too committed to a particular language to be bare of prejudices.

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