Existentialism and photography

What gives your photography and for that matter your life meaning? Is it God, Family, Shopping, Money, Work, Fame, Football or Twilight fan fiction? You might already have your own purpose in your life that gets you out of bed in the morning, or you might be reading this post in hopes that you find meaning in your photography. Everyone strives to have meaning in our lives, and no one would consider this a fault in one’s drive if you got up every morning in order to find it. We all crave it, and some of us even need a meaning to keep going. So how do we make our lives meaningful? How is existentialism and photography related?

What can give your life meaning?

What can give your life meaning? It could be teaching others, sharing stories and experiences, helping the human race move forward, or even finding yourself through artistic expression. All these things can give your life meaning according to existentialism, but at the same time, they also say none of them can. Confusing right! lets me dive a little deeper into this philosophy and really get to its core beliefs so it can benefit you and your photography.

Philosophy of Existentialism

It works like this, someone comes up with an idea and puts it out there, and then someone else responds to it, be it agreeing or disagreeing with a counter idea, that’s how philosophy works in a nutshell. So what is existentialism and how does the philosophy of existentialism relate to photography?

The philosophy of existentialism is based around the idea that the individual person is free and responsible for determining their own purpose in their life. What that means is if you believe that God gives your life a purpose, then through your own freewill of choice, you let God give meaning to your existence. The same goes for any belief you have, be it The Spaghetti Monster to Oprah Winfrey. Whatever you choose to give meaning to your life, gives you meaning, there is no way to rationally argue a belief.

The other belief of existentialism is that everything in this life is meaningless. Let me put it this way, if you believe that God gives the reason for your existence doesn’t mean that belief is true for your atheist neighbour. Your beliefs don’t make them undefinably true for all living entities. I call a person like that a street corner preacher, ignorant and stubborn. Where an existentialist has the power of freewill, to believe or not to believe.

How does this relate to photography

The same can be said for photography. If the camera is your reason to get out of bed in the morning or the reason for your holiday or weekend trip that is a good thing. If you get enjoyment from looking up and talking about camera specs then that is the enjoyment you get from photography. There is nothing wrong with that. If your passion for photography comes through your artistic expression for capturing the reality around you then that’s what gives purpose to your photography.

What I’m saying is there is no right or wrong, everything has its place in this world and in photography. There is no higher or lower art form or moment, they are all equal. It’s entirely up to the individual to give importance to an object or moment. Others might see it differently but for you, it’s a choice what you define as important, or what you choose to give joy to your photography.

How to find meaning in your photography

For existentialists finding meaning is entirely up to you. It’s up to you to find it and believe in it. For me, I find meaning in my photography purely from the drive to better myself and find meaning in my practice. It’s a bit of a conundrum for me. I find meaning in photography by looking for meaning. Weird I know but for me, that’s what drives me to get up in the morning. This might be different for you. You could have the drive to get the best sunset or capture the perfect cherry blossom.

What I’m getting at is no one can tell you what gives meaning to your photography or life for that matter, only you can do that. It’s up to you to find meaning in your work. I could take the other side of existentialism and say everything is pointless, we are all going to die one day and that nothing exists on purpose. In response to this doom and gloom idea, do whatever you want, because its all going to be gone one day anyway. Life is too short to wonder about the question ‘what if’. So you better get up and start making photos because it’s only in this moment right now that we exist, everything before and after is history or speculation.

What’s the point of it all? Nothing! The point of it all is only what you give it.


Pretty deep with positive and negative views I know but that’s why I’m an existentialist myself. Everything is pointless and meaningless, but I have the power to give meaning to anything I wish. I have the power to give myself meaning and a purpose in life. To follow or strive for something that gives me aspirations beyond myself. It’s up to you, everything is random, nothing is here on purpose so make the most of it why you’re still alive. Make the most out of your photography and choose for yourself what gives your practice purpose.