Why Do We Take Pictures, Write Diaries?

Since Zhou Mi posted his complete Ecuador series on Sunday, I’ve been busy reading up reviews and debates online. Yesterday I got into a mini discussion with Alice regarding why we record events in our lives and the different ways people can view these recordings. It was quite interesting.


I take (took) pictures for my own enjoyment. The pictures worth keeping are those one felt COMPELLED to take. It is not for the sake of remembrance. I don’t have the same sense of urgency about RECORDING events that Shishamo seems to have. I’m not afraid of the passing of time. I don’t keep a diary, I constantly change and I don’t care to remember the person I was several years ago. This may change with the advance of age. But I’ve always thought my mid life crisis would come when I start regretting the things I did not do. I live so that I would not have any regrets. I live for the future and not the past.

So I don’t care much for keeping records. When I see something that I want to capture on film, it’s not for myself 20 years from now. It’s for me, right now. Something catches the eye, and I believe that the mission of photographers is to figure out what that thing is, and to express it cleanly in the frame. It could be communication with merely oneself, or it may be with other people. But that’s not important.

There are perhaps multiple levels of photography attainable by the individual. I may be just at the beginning level: photography for the self. But people may get bored with just talking to the self, they may want to talk to other people. Hence there’s photography for the people. I’m not there yet so I can’t comment on it.

Anyway, I think I’m on dangerous grounds here: it’s no longer just theory of photography, but PHILOSOPHY of photography now. It’s time to stop.



I’m thinking of why i write diaries. In a way it is for the self 20 years from now. But that wasn’t really the reason, it was a pleasant surprise, a byproduct. I often have this feeling that when i experience something important, writing it down is part of “living this moment to its fullest”. Otherwise, i somehow feel it is not COMPLETED. Like a ghost that refuses to go. lingering in the back of my mind.

Later i realized that writing them down will also enable me to relive those moments, or to have a glance of the moment again and experience it, in a lesser degree maybe, but experience it, nonetheless. I was amazed to find that out. But that remained secondary.

At the time when i came to the US, i had a fear of losing all my diaries. I thought about it. It was such a dreary feeling. I was never that afraid of anything before. Because it felt as if all my past would be empty if i lost them. Then I thought, that is ridiculous. But still, I’m really glad they are there.

I wonder if it is because I’m greedy. I don’t want things to go away to fade. I want them to be there in their full glory and can be called upon whenever I desire. As if only then, my life is full. otherwise, it is somehow incomplete. Experiencing the moment is good, but it is not enough. I need that experience to stay, too.

2 thoughts on “Why Do We Take Pictures, Write Diaries?

  1. For this question. I thinked about myself. My way is mostly like this: I archived all the past by write it down and feel relieved, so I can wait for the new days coming with a brand new mind.
    All past is archived, so no need to worry it is lost. At the same time, I need not to look back into it frequently. Just forget it, practically.
    It is a nice way for a happy life. One can not go far with too much burden.
    If we need a theory for it, it is of the same reason when we archive data in a big database. There is no good to keep all data active at the same time. :p

  2. Yes, your theory is close to what I’m doing. But i think what Alice meant was why would you need the past data at all? Why keep an archive in the first place? Wouldn’t what’s in your head be sufficient? Afterall, what you know is an accumulative result of what you’ve learned.

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