Why: Reflections on Photography

Here, WHY is not a question but a statement. Nine established and emerging photographic artists from around the world speak about what motivates their practice. While I have selected a series of images to illustrate each statement, their words are not a description or introduction to those specific images. Rather, as we come to the end of another challenging year, each artist takes time to reflect upon the deeper drive to make, to express, to record, to communicate, and to create.

Most of us take photographs at some point in our lives. But why do we do it? Perhaps, reading the words of each artist, you may ask yourself the same question. And, in so doing, reflect upon the mysteries of catching an instant and pinning it into the cabinet of curiosities that is the annex to memory.

Video trailer for ‘Why’. Music: ‘Eglair’ by Alex-Productions | Free Stock Music | Creative Commons CC BY 3.0

Bohnchang Koo

Republic of Korea

©  Bohnchang Koo from the series ‘Vessel’

Everyone tries to find the meaning of existence.

There are many ways to express who one is. Some people do it with a pen. I do it with a camera. I seek to capture objects, people, and aspects of nature that have stories to tell. What is in front of me stimulates my curiosity. Sometimes it recalls memories; sometimes it raises questions in me about the very meaning of life. What I see is fleeting, but it is captured by the camera. Through my photographs, I hope to communicate these fleeting existential ideas in a more permanent way.

Of course, what I personally experience is just a tiny part of the vast history of the world, like a speck of dust. But I have come to realise that the story of humankind can be understood as the accumulation of the participation of each and every human being, no matter how small that individual participation might be.

Denis Darzacq


© Denis Darzacq ‘La Chute’ [the fall] and related work 2005–06

Creating images allows me to better understand the world in which I live.

I have been using the language of photography for over thirty-five years. Creating images allows me to better understand the world in which I live: the tensions, hopes, alienations and struggles that underlie all of our actions. I like to compare each photograph to a word and each photographic series to a poem.

I have never found a more metaphorical, more nuanced or more precise medium than photography for ‘speaking’ to others.

Antonio Briceño


© Antonio Briceño ‘Tarot of the Quarantined Garden’ 2020–21

The Universe and its diversity amaze me.

Ever since I was a child I have felt a powerful attraction to images. As an adult I have been dazzled by the wonders, richness and diversity – human and natural – of the world. I am also mystified by its darkness and shadows. The Universe and its diversity amaze me. Why, as the philosopher might ask, is there something rather than nothing?

I am essentially a storyteller. It is through these visual narratives that I pursue that ‘something’ which is not nothing. That something is not just seen but perceived. What we perceive as images is not simply a recognition of the world, but its interpretation. Imagination is that faculty of creating images in our mind to better understand the world. Our mental language is a compendium of images.

I take photographs to act as a channel between the amazing world I perceive and the people around me. I seek to become a translator, a bridge.

Riitta Päiväläinen


© Riitta Päiväläinen

Who I am? Why do I exist?
What was in my past? What do I wish to leave behind?

Photography is not separate from me; it flows mingled within my individual being. We each have our own private ‘undercurrent’, a fundamental understanding of what makes us happy or sad; a knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses. That undercurrent never disappears. We can return to it, make it deeper and wider. It gives us hope and security. 

My childhood home was surrounded by forests. Days were filled with play and creativity. I reconnect with myself as a child when I am in Nature, a place of imaginary meetings and unwritten stories. It is through my images in Nature that I share my personal emotions and experiences. While each response will be shaped by the personal history of the individual, I hope that viewers connect with something familiar as our private undercurrents meet within the unwritten story of the image.

Ellen Jantzen


© Ellen Jantzen

To make visual that which is not visible.

I am interested in states of reality. How is reality experienced; how is it revealed?  As I become more aware of the many scientific theories about multiple universes and the conundrums of the space-time continuum, I find it increasingly difficult to define ‘reality’ and a challenge to depict it. I am drawn to this challenge and strive to make visual that which is not visible. I want to look beyond the surface in the hope of revealing something deeper and unexpected.

This is the very reason I was drawn to photography as a creative medium. I find photography – especially digitally-aided photomontage – to be a potent medium through which to effectively communicate the ways I perceive and understand the world.

Photographs were once considered to be truthful, but we now know there has been photographic manipulation ever since it was invented. Yet, because photographs are believed, there is a great deal of room to play within the medium’s apparent reality; to create a poetic personal fiction that remains open to interpretation.

Michelle Sank

United Kingdom

© Michelle Sank from the series ‘Teenagers Belfast

Conveying the extraordinary within the ordinary.

I take photographs in order to make sense of the world in which I live: to try to make visible to others the narratives and nuances that have meaning for me. I am interested in conveying the extraordinary within the ordinary – a juxtaposition of realities existing within the norm. This reveals itself unexpectedly in both landscape and portraiture. Each new photographic encounter brings a heightened sense of the magic that can so joyfully unfold in these situations.

Photography is my ‘voice’ of personal expression, and a salvation from the alienation that I can often experience. It is the medium through which I am best able to comment on the intricacies of the human condition, the environments we create, and the life force intrinsic to both. These intricacies may become evident in the visualisation of current social issues, debates, and values through in-depth studies of communities, individuals, and places; or they may become evident through quiet, spiritual reflections on the urban and rural environment.

Nana Frimpong Oduro


© Nana Frimpong Oduro

When water is calm, we see all that is under the surface.

I am inspired by the nature of human beings, by our emotional side. I want to communicate my feelings and thoughts about the part of humanity that lies within. I want to express myself through my pictures, but also to express my feelings about other people: to show them I understand how they feel, that they are not alone, they need not feel fear…

Life is like gold, in order to get its essence, you must dig deep within yourself. I believe everything is within us. You find yourself by digging deep within yourself. It takes serenity and humility. Serenity helps me find myself; when water is calm, we see all that is under the surface.

Roberto Fernández Ibáñez


© Roberto Fernández Ibáñez from the series ‘The Hand (In The Red Cave)’ and ‘Melting Point’

To write with light is to separate it from darkness.

Photography reminds me that I am alive. It is my way to search for answers, and to draw me on to new questions.

It is a communication into society.
A way to ask existential questions about humanity, its origins and behaviour; and to express my concern about the environment, climate change, and natural resources.

It is a refinement of sight.
A permanent, indissoluble dialogue between light and shadow in which one realises a kind of harmony while becoming silently intertwined within it.

It is an interaction with materials.
I feel very comfortable working in the darkroom with my hands, chemicals, and light. It fulfils me.

It is a poetic expression.
Photography has the potential to awaken a wordless, and sometimes ineffable, feeling born in the depths of our innermost thoughts. To write with light is to separate it from darkness.

It is pure joy.
There is an intellectual flash of ecstasy in making and contemplating a successful photograph. It can last a few moments or an entire lifetime.

Roger Ballen

South Africa

© Roger Ballen from the series ‘The Theatre of Apparitions’

Life will never, in any way, be understandable.

As I enter my early seventies, the passage of time becomes my foremost concern. I cannot help feeling that – because there are so many parts to the puzzle – life will never, in any way, be understandable. It is crucial to me that I create images, that my images have a life of their own, and that they reveal themselves when I am not present. Photography has been the best way in which I am able to distil the essence of my life on this planet. Metaphorically, the images that I have created will ultimately become my fossils.

About the Artists

Bohnchang Koo

Working with museums in Korea and internationally, Bohnchang Koo has meticulously documented the distinctive white porcelain vessels made during the Joseon Dynasty (1492–1910); vessels that embody the Confucian values of frugality, humility and practicality.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Bohnchang Koo here…

Denis Darzacq

In collaboration with a group of break dancers, Denis Darzacq made ‘La Chute’ [the fall] as a response to the alienation of youths on suburban housing estates after the riots that shook France in 2005. They are straight photographs, unmanipulated.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Denis Darzacq here…

Antonio Briceño

During the Covid-19 lockdown, using images made in his little garden in Caraccas, Antonio Briceño created a new and extended version of the Tarot in which each card stands as a metaphor for a philosophical idea.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Antonio Briceño here…

Riitta Päiväläinen

For the Finnish artist Riitta Päiväläinen, the landscapes of her native country and the recycled clothing and fabrics of those who live there come together in an unusual aesthetic and conceptual marriage.

An interview with Riitta Päiväläinen will be published at Talking Pictures in 2022.

Ellen Jantzen

Ellen Janzen has perfected a creative blend of photography with digital post-production as way to visualise abstract states – emotions, longings, memories – through images of landscapes that have no physical equivalent.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Ellen Jantzen here…

Michelle Sank

Finding a delicate balance between dignity and disclosure, British photographer Michelle Sank focuses on the complex transition from child to adult as it finds expression through modes of dress, social behaviour, and body image.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Michelle Sank here…

Nana Frimpong Oduro

With few resources, Nana Frimpong Oduro has nonetheless developed a clear aesthetic and symbolic visual signature that evokes the balance of psychological phenomena: love and loneliness, amity and struggle, joy and anxiety.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Nana Frimpong Oduro here…

Roberto Fernández Ibáñez

Artist, chemist, craftsman, essayist, philosopher, poet, teacher, photographer – Roberto Fernández Ibáñez is truly a renaissance man. His images each become unique objects, with a physicality that weaves enrichment into the tapestry of perception.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Roberto Fernández Ibáñez here…

Roger Ballen

Roger Ballen’s images have beguiled and challenged viewers for over five decades, maintaining their uncompromising traction. While ever-evolving, his style has remained so distinctive it has required a new noun to describe it: the Ballenesque.

You can read a Talking Pictures interview with Roger Ballen here…

‘Why’ is a Talking Pictures original.

Talking Pictures presented a version of this concept at the Pingyao International Photography Festival, China, in September 2021, winning a Best Curated Exhibition Award.