What is a photograph for?

Even digital photos come at a cost. Taking a photo requires us to borrow from the present moment. When we compose a photograph, we don’t pay full attention to what we experience.

So why do we take photos?

The traditional answer to this question is some version of ‘capturing this moment’ for posterity. The idea is that a photo can be revisited and therefore, serve to preserve our memories of a good experience. The problem here is twofold – firstly, this binds us to the past or the future. When we take a photo, we invest in future enjoyment. When we look at a photo, we go back to the past. In both instances, we are sacrificing the present.

Yet, there is another, more noble reason for taking a photo – to share an experience with somebody else.

We now live in a world where friends and families separated across contients and time-zones are held together by the internet. For all of human history, our lives were shared with our dear ones. This has been made harder due to our physical separation. Sharing a photo bridges this separation.

Every photo or video we send to the right person tells them that we wished they were with us. However, merely sharing a photo doesn’t make the act generous. It has to be shared with people who care about us – not with ‘followers’ on a social media account. The thumb rule here is that the person receiving the photo is enriched by it. Most photos we see on social media don’t enrich us, but rather deprave us.

Today, we also live in a world where it is far easier to share a photo with somebody we care. Therefore, to take a photo is no longer a selfish attempt to ‘capture a memory’, as long as it is shared generously.

The key to clicking a generous photograph is to not ask ‘do I want to remember this moment’. Instead, we ought to ask ‘who else will enjoy seeing what I am seeing’.

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