I can understand why people photograph - messing about with cameras is fun, it often gets you outdoors, it's an icebreaker to talk to people you might not meet otherwise, it's challenging and you get to buy neat gadgets. But that doesn't explain the need to make images. If we go back to before the internet, the average photographer never shared his work with anyone. Few if any prints were mounted on the wall - given the hassles of dry mounting and matte cutting, prints were difficult to make so the concept of sharing prints was largely foreign, giving a photograph as a gift wasn't generally thought of, and few photographers had their images pinned to their office walls to look at on a regular basis. No, the images tended to be stored in printing paper boxes (if even that), to be looked at somewhere between seldom and never. All this was done with considerable expense in time and materials and for what?
Clearly it wasn't for fame - in the days of the wet darkroom, few serious amateur photographers even considered submitting their work - there was one around to compare yourself to and most photographers just assumed no one would be interested. Even today, there are photographers discovered who have quietly been working on one or more projects for 30 years, amassing an impressive and important body of work without a soul knowing till some lucky fluke comes along.
You'd think that if it were for the love of the fine image, photographers would have their work pasted up everywhere, and if not their own work, then images from photo magazines - but few did.
this suggests that while many of us share our work these days, that isn't fundamental to being a photographer.
So why photograph? Some photographers spend their entire lives testing - for what I don't know since they never seem to move beyond testing. I read today of someone testing printing techniques for the new Sigma DP-1 - it isn't even out yet - give me break! Others say they photograph because they have to - but how helpful is that kind of comment? What is this, some little voice inside that says, before you are allowed to have lunch, you must take a photograph? I don't think so - these photographers can go weeks or even months between photographic sessions - some addiction that is.
More than a few photographers photograph in a way that reminds one of the big game hunters of the past - see what I bagged. I hiked further, higher, carried a heavier pack, suffered for my art and see what I got that you can't get - so there! They may want to impress but often it's the thrill of the chase that satisfies, the final image simply being a reminder of the conquest.
A few photographers are more specific, they say they feel the need to create. Now, in 30 seconds, your 3 year old can slap paint onto your clean living room wall (and carpet) so there must be more to creation than that - I think of creation a little bit like stategy in a game - whether it's chess or football. Gee, if I try this, then that, and what about the other? Instead of the conquest being the perfect weather/sun/light our successes often come when we find things that others either don't see or don't consider photogenic, then turn round and work with it to record and present it in a way that is unique, informative, pretty, interesting, curious, strange or whatever.
Some days we feel this need more than others. At times it can be satisfied by working on an image taken, but others nothing but going out hunting, plotting and scheming will satisfy the itch, rather like one of those serial murderers you read about in novels. Hopefully there's no transfer of itches.
In the end, does it really matter why we photograph? Well, I think it does. Knowing yourself better helps you scratch the itch more effectively. For the person who has to hike miles and find unique weather and lie in wet grass for hours - popping out to the local park at noon just isn't going to cut it. It might for someone else though who wants to create and who might enjoy the challenge of being given a subject, location or situation to photograph.
It also could help you figure out what to do with your images once made. It it's truly the hunt that is important, the images simply form a record of the hunt and are of no great importance otherwise and filing them is entirely appropriate.
Some of us need a test audience and for better or worse, you're it for me. It's not so much that I need an adoring public - Yuck!, it's that you act as a sounding board for my images, my experiments, my ideas. Am I on the right track, did I go to far, did I get my point across in an image or did I in fact miss the boat entirely.
For some, only cold hard cash sales are going to validate their work - it's all about sales, even if they actually don't make a net profit from their photography, the sales are the validation of their work, and perhaps worth.
The net is full of people who want to be known for their expertise, but not for their photography. They pontificate at length, but don't have the work to back it up. They often get really defensive when challenged - but given that they are talkers and not photographers, perhaps it's best if we put them aside as irrelevant to the current conversation.
It doesn't matter how good a tool is if you don't use it.
Do you really understand both why you photograph and what that implies about what you do with your image making?