What Is the Purpose of Photography?

Photography is part of the evolution of the human desire to capture and express life; since the earliest days of artistic expression and documentation in the form of cave paintings, humans have been attempting to capture and record life around themselves in various formats, including drawing, painting, sculpting, writing and photographing. The question of photography's ultimate purpose is in many ways a deeply philosophical question, though the easy response can be seen in the ways people use cameras and what they choose as their subjects. Since cameras became widely available in the 1900s, people have been capturing still images of their lives by photographing their families, the places they visit, the things that are important to them and even themselves.

Prior to the advent of photography, human artistic creation focused largely on a desire to represent things, be it the resplendent image of a crowned king to religious iconography and even simple still-life images of a peasant's meal. Starting with the daguerrotype, a primitive form of photographic equipment, people no longer needed to be talented artists in order to recreate the image of a thing. But as famous photographers such as Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus and Gregory Crewdson have shown, photography can be about much more than simply making an exact copy of an image; it can also be an artistic endeavor in its own right.