There are plenty of reasons to document the world around us. We might need some evidence for an insurance claim, we might want a record of what our kids look like, right now. If we make photography our work we probably need to photograph a product that our client would like to advertise and sell; and we might make some portraits so other client can project a certain (benevolent) image to prospective buyers of the subject's expertise or valuable service. But when all the day to day uses of photography are cleared off the table I think most people who take photographs for themselves do it for one overwhelming reason: social connection.
If we profess to "just enjoy taking photographs" then why do we feel the need to post them and share them with other people? And, in most cases, these other people are people like us who are using their cameras and posting their images in order to belong; however tangentially, to a broad social group.
All the bickering over brands or specs or "the correct way" to do photography is just the baggage that humans bring with them as they jockey for what they perceive to be their place in the social hierarchy of this or that collection of like minded photographers. But the need to share is implied in the immersion into online forae, real world camera clubs and meet ups.
There's really no way to divorce the need for social connection and interconnection from any hobby or avocation that people enjoy doing. Must of us must go to work in order to survive, buy food and shelter and save up enough $$$ for cameras. But after we meet the basic criteria it's the hobbies and the passions we pursue that provide the glue that binds people with similar interests together.
I am going to pack a camera bag and go over to Zach Theatre this afternoon to photograph a play. I'll be paid, but really, in the grand scheme of things, the money is incidental, I'm also going because being present to do the marketing photographs means I'll spend time with a group of people I like to be with. Lauren from marketing will be there with a warm smile and stories about her three year old. The actors will be doing what is their passion --- entertaining us. We all support each other's human side and passion side. I exist in this situation as validation that they will reach a wider audience.
I have many friends who've taken pains to learn a great deal about photography in general and cameras in particular. We have found in each other a group of like minded individuals who don't seem to share a bigger demographic's appreciation for televised sports but we enjoy the one-to-one experience of sitting across a table from each other, talking about photography. Or talking about cameras. On one level it doesn't matter if we talk about cameras or we talk about some great show we've seen; we're using our common interest to build social bonds and relationships.
When you go to a workshop your conscious (advertising?) reason to go is to learn more about my craft, but I would say that while improving craft sounds like a very good thing one of your main reasons for paying and attending is to spend time with like minded people, and to build credentials for cementing or improving your social position within your chosen hierarchy. A selected group of photographers.
Your sub group within photography might be landscapes in which case you might share more conversations about good locations and dynamic range enhancements. If you enjoy photographing beautiful people (models) your conversation will, no doubt, center around how to find beautiful people to shoot, and about how to light people in the most dramatic and flattering way. Part of your reasons for talking to each other about these topics is to make sure you aren't missing something obvious that will improve your enjoyment of the art, but for the most part you display your shared knowledge in order to exist, meaningfully, within your group.
It's interesting to see the dynamics at work at a photo walk, a workshop, or even at the counter of the local camera store (sorry if you no longer have one). It's a process that I've reduced down to a coffee analogy. That's how I come to understand most social interactions.
People exist, psychologically, along a long curve of what psychologist might refer to as an "emotional intelligence quotient." How well do you read other people? Do you have an easy or hard time understanding humor? Are you very, very literal or very empathetic?
Here's how I take a quick evaluation of a new person arriving to our group, any group:
At my masters swimming team we swim from 8:30 am till 10:00 am every Saturday. Have for years. About 16 years ago a group of us decided to drop by a coffee shop after the long, sometimes cold, Saturday morning swim to have coffee ---- together. It's a way of catching up as well as prolonging the shared social experience of exercising together. We head over to the coffee shop and pull a couple of tables together and just share stories. They could be about swimming, or someone's latest vacation, or a bitch about there being too much (or too little) distance work in the recent swims. Doesn't matter. We learn more about each other, say supportive things about the benefits of swimming, and then go home. We build and maintain a supportive social structure.
Like any big program we frequently have new people join. The critical measure in parsing a person's group social fitness is the response we get when we invite the new person to the group coffee, following the Saturday workout.
One response tells us that the person isn't a particularly good social candidate (although they may be just fine in the swimming program!). When asked if they want to join us for coffee the response we are never looking for is: "Sorry, I don't drink coffee." In a big way it means that they just didn't understand the un-literal underlying invitation. That "coffee" is just common code for, "join us and we'll get to know each other and welcome you into the network."
There are tons of legitimate answers we'd accept including, "I'd love to but I left my wife at home with three kids and she'd kill me if I didn't get back with donuts!" Or, "I've got other plans today but it sounds great. Can I get a rain check?" We get that hanging out with a bunch of swimmers might not be everyone's idea of good times but we also get it that the last two answers might also mean, "Thanks for the invitation. I'll decline and pretend to leave the door open, but we all understand that I won't be attending now or in the future. I do, though, appreciate the offer." But we respect that because it shows us that the person in question understands the underlying meaning of our invitation and values our social ring enough to answer in a graceful way.
The first person, the one "who doesn't drink coffee!", doesn't understand the question but, in a broader sense, doesn't understand the social glue of groups and, by extension, the place of our hobbies within the context of our own chosen cultures.
Deep down I don't feel like most of us care all that much about the images the people around us create. We care more about being part of their hobby/art/craft connected social construct and finding our particular spot within that matrix of people. It's a way of building emotionally helpful structures in a changing world. We just happen to socialize better when mixing with cameras than with beer pong or opera singing. Seems like a valuable part of our collective photography experience to me.
There can be no stars in our group without others to acknowledge them and provide the feedback some people need in order to thrive. In a sense, we are all interconnected within our groups. Much as Taoist explain our connection to all things, living and inanimate, in the Universe.