Why Take Pictures?
Photo & Text by Cat Simril Ishikawa
In the 80s, when I was teaching in the Kudanshita district of Tokyo, I used to visit Maruzen in Nihonbashi to read its English magazines and books. One afternoon, Maruzen was featuring photography magazines. I began to look through them. One of them featured an article listing reasons to take pictures. There was a long list, but the one that stood out for me was that we take pictures to discover our own aesthetics, our own sense of beauty. Makes perfect sense to me.
I got a camera when I was five. Here’s a photo of me taking a photo, next to my aunt and uncle. The reason was to take photos at Disneyland, which has certain spots marked “take pictures here.” It was a very simple Kodak, My parents had two fancy German cameras as well as a movie camera, which they used constantly. Mostly on family vacations. My father was an avid gardener and loved to film his work in the garden. I don’t remember being particularly interested in photography as a child. It took so long from taking pictures to then seeing them when they came back developed onto prints, I had forgotten what I was photographing. It wasn’t until after I got a Pentax after seeing the movie Blow Up and then began developing the film in the labs at the universities I attended that photography became really interesting. I even took a photography class at one of the universities one summer. In the course, I was instructed to shoot various things. That may be when I first began taking pictures of reflections, but it’s hard to remember that far in the past.
The introduction of digital photography opened up the world of not having to get anything developed anymore, and seeing what I’d taken immediately, like the old Polaroids only with far higher quality. My first digital camera was a tiny Fuji that I could carry in my shirt pocket to shoot pictures of food. This was when I first began blogging about food and wanted pictures to go with descriptions. When that camera abruptly stopped working, I upgraded to a big Nikon D-80 which gives me a backache when I carry it around for more than an hour. Since I can now take 240 pictures at a time instead of 24, the search for a personal aesthetic has greatly expanded. A lot of reflections.
Recently, the Vancouver Art Gallery had a show of Monet paintings, borrowed from the Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris. I’d seen a bunch of Monets at that museum in June, as well as more Monets at other Paris museums as well as a guided tour of his house in Giverny. When I entered the Monet exhibit in Vancouver, a tour had just commenced. The tour guide was explaining how Monet painted different levels of his ponds: the lilies floating in the ponds, the reflections of overhanging trees in the ponds and beneath the water lilies, other plants at other depths in the ponds. Monet was trying to put what the human eye sees in 3-D onto a 2-D canvas. Very much what I’m doing with the images I am constantly photographing. The guide also mentioned that Monet was trying to capture the light at one particular moment, and he had several canvases going at once to capture the light on his subject as it changed. Also very much what I’m doing with my camera; in particular as cars of different colors drove by the window I was shooting. So that is the personal aesthetic I’ve been searching for all these years, since reading that article in the magazine in Maruzen. Thanks Monet for clearing that up for me.