Why I Take Photos / by greg brophy

Me after working full-time and shooting until 2am for a week.

"Nearly everyone has fallen down, been the target of condescension (the stereotypical image of a photographer being that of a mildly contemptible, self-indulgent dilettante), been harassed by security guards, and dropped expensive equipment. Almost all photographers have incurred large expenses in the pursuit of tiny audiences, finding that the wonder they'd hoped to share is something few want to receive. Nothing is so clarifying, for instance, as to stand through the opening of an exhibition to which only officials have come."

Robert Adams

I think this can pretty much sum up how just about every photographer feels. In college, I had a professor tear my work off the wall through it on the floor and tell me “if you ever bring in work like this again, I will fail you.” Unfortunately I deserved that one. Since then, I have spent many countless days and nights working. I have sacrificed personal relationships, money and time in the pursuit of something that is often derided or not taken seriously. It is a field that is under appreciated and very low paying. In order to continue creating the work I do, I have to work a full time job as a designer in order to make buy the supplies I need.

So many times I put my own life in risk by using toxic chemicals and walking into some of the world’s worst neighborhoods. I am most likely buying a house in the most crime ridden place in Brooklyn just to have something bigger than a 500 square foot apartment to live and work in. I am practically sleeping on my 8x10 camera. One time in Buenos Aries, I was walking down the street taking photos. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a policeman telling me to go in the opposite direction. It turns out that I was in the worst area of Buenos Aires, La Boca.

So many times I have fought with pompous security guards over where I can take photos from. Or police officers questioning me and telling me to move on because I don’t shoot with a “tourist” camera. All the people on the street that give me dirty looks as if I am doing something evil like stealing their souls. The stigma I often hear about photographers being GWC’s or Guys with Cameras, a term to mean that the only reason the guys take photos is to get pretty girls naked and photography them. Or read articles about people like Terry Richardson who abuse their power to take advantage of young girls trying to make a legitimate career.

I receive emails every month about some new scheme to help promote my artwork or send me the photo and I will wire you a check fraud. The people who want to use my photo and promise to make me famous with the magazine with a circulation of 100. Professional businesses that offer to give me credit in their publication and how the jobs will start rolling in with all the exposure I will get. This is not the 1980’s anymore. Nobody is impressed with your photo in a magazine anymore.

All the exhibitions I have shown at only to see a few friends attend. I was recently at an exhibition that featured some photos my wife took. A friend walked up and asked whether my wife had taken them or if it was really me who took them. Needless to say she was a little upset by that question.

Eni's photo from the Selfless Selfies Exhibit

So why do we do it?

I originally went to school for painting and after a few years I took my first photography class while living in London. I can still remember how magical it was to me at the time when I put the first print into the developer. It was like magic. I used to spend hours and hours drawing and painting to get a realistic look in my paintings and after seeing an image develop it made me rethink things. Ever since then I had been addicted. Photography is worse than a drug and costs more too. I never really took many classes in school for photography, but when I did I had access to huge studios and great equipment, 4x5 cameras, Hasselblads and Nikons, all the latest. Strobes and space big enough to photograph a truck. Then school ends and it was a struggle to buy my own equipment while paying off school and making minimum wage. It wasn’t until digital cameras became more readily available that I was able to afford one. I bought a Nikon D70. Now I have a growing collection of digital and vintage cameras. A lot of my photos on this site were shot with a 8x10 Deardorff. 

"Everything Collapsed" for the "Where the Ocean Meets the Shore" series.

A lot of the work I shot has some social, economic or political message behind it. I recently shot Willets Point, Queens. While photographing the place and people, I was reminded why I do this. I do this to tell stories and share my world. I often see things that leave a huge weight on my soul and by sharing the photos; it helps to lift some of that weight off. After taking these photos, it can be hard to let it go and often stays with me and keeps me up at night working harder and harder. I never feel completely fulfilled with the photos or the prints, I never feel like I really do justice to the subjects I photograph or the topics I cover and so I work harder and harder and dig deeper and deeper into a hole until I can’t take it anymore. It’s like a stain I can’t get off my hands, a habit I can’t kick and so all those inconveniences I mentioned before seem trivial.

Eni with the guys from Willets Point