The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Each week on the A Photographic Life podcast I ask photographers to answer a simple question, ‘What Does Photography Mean to You?’ I have now received over 200 responses and answers to the question, and one simple theme as emerged. That is that the gift of a camera at an early age is a life changing experience.

This may have been in response to a request for a camera, it may have been self-purchased with hard earned pocket money, but most often it seems to have been as an unexpected gift. A father, mother, relative or family friend took a risk and second guessed the importance that a camera could have to a young mind.

Those cameras opened-up a world of instigation and wonder to those who received them. They shaped their lives and careers, they have given them a reason to ask questions, and to explore the unknown. They have been the most important intervention into their educational journey. Of course the camera in itself is no more than an object constructed of metals, plastic and glass, but the possibilities it can offer cannot be under estimated.

Those that have spoken of their first camera do so with a nostalgic wistfulness, remembering the model and make clearly; as clearly as the first images they started to make. Images based on naive passion and enthusiasm. Unencumbered by perceived understanding of what photography has been or has to be. Raw, fresh and experimental, childhood images that can never be recreated; once the genie is out of the bottle and a knowledge of the medium begins to take hold.

As Pablo Picasso stated “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he/she grows up.” 

Despite this the receiving of a first camera acts as an instigation, a key, a passport to an unknown series of adventures that we can choose to accept, if we wish. A series of adventures we may never have considered prior to receiving the photographic box of potential.

You don’t have to be interested in photography to be given a camera, just as you don’t need to have studied the medium to be a photographer. The photographic bug can bite at any time and at any age, but the earlier the bite the longer the life of adventures could be.

It has never been cheaper to buy a compact digital camera, perfect for small hands and inquisitive minds. Cameras that can be used and abused, without the fear of damage and great financial loss. So, why not take a chance and pass on a camera to someone who has never considered buying a camera or making photographs. You may just be changing their life.

*You can find out who has previously answered the question ‘What Does Photography Mean to You?’ here and listen to their contributions to the A Photographic Life podcast at, Spotify, iTunes and all podcast platforms.

Dr. Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).

Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99

© Grant Scott 2021

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