Autotelic Photography and the Tangible Image

DSC_2175 horses

An autotelic photographer practises photography for the sake of doing photography, not for the results of doing photography, which includes not just the pictures produced but the social media recognition that many of us hope comes along with the images. There are many photographers who do photography as a means of acquiring social media recognition, and even pseudo adulation. There are also many photographers who eschew all recognition and do photography for photography’s sake, for their own purpose. It is an interesting question to ponder. If you were the only person who ever saw your work, how passionately would you continue to work at that… and for how long? Honestly answering this question promises to tell you a lot about yourself.


I did not make this image because I wanted to do something different than I usually do, or because I wanted a photo that ran counter to my other body of work, or even that I wanted to contradict any perceived classification of who I am as a photographer. I made this photo because I am a photographer and seeing things to possibly make photos of is what I do. For me the making of a physical Photograph is the reward.


I don’t value the non-physical……..

I don’t value anything that is intangible. I don’t value photos on social media or Instagram, because they don’t “exist” in the real world. They don’t have dimensionality, they don’t have weight, they don’t have thickness, nor do they have soul.

The joy of physical things

I just printed this image on Hahnemühle Baryta paper. It is beautiful. You can look at the print at different angles of light, and see how the ink shimmers off the paper. Not only that, but there is a great pleasure in holding the print, feeling the texture of the print, and having the ability to frame it on your wall.

I don’t think you can get the same joy from seeing a photo from a 4 inch screen on Instagram.

The downside of digital photography is that there is a lot fewer sensory pleasures. No longer do we hold film, load film into the camera, feel the response of advancing the film, the joy of finishing a roll of film, selecting the best and putting these physical prints into frames or photo albums.

With digital, it is too detached physically. We hold a physical digital camera, but every photo we take is converted into bits, downloaded into our computers, and then uploaded to the cloud or on social media pages. After that, they puff away into digital oblivion and dust.

Make prints

I shoot almost exclusively Film , but the problem can still rear its head— I develop the film, scan the negatives, and then I have the digital files on my hard drive. But then they die. They don’t get printed.

So the solution is this— it doesn’t matter whether your photos are shot on digital or film; what matters is whether you print them or not. They can be printed into a book, printed as prints — they just need to exist as “atoms” not “bits.”