Play and the Universal Language of Photography

Breathless giggles from an impromptu game of tag. Finally trying an art class after years of doodling in a notebook. Falling in love with new colors and styles after years of taking photographs.

Play — across generations, across borders — looks different to us all, but it’s a fundamental part of us from the very beginning. Play evolves as we grow, taking on new forms and strange mediums, but remains as enduring and essential to us as that very first time on the playground.

That’s why we teamed up with eight incredible photographers all over the world to capture the universal notion of “play” from their unique perspectives and cultures. What does it mean to them? How do they play in their daily lives, in their work, and in their art? Scroll through for some insight into each of these talented creators and their distinctive takes on play (all edited with the Lightroom mobile app, of course), then share what play looks like in your world with #CapturePlay on Instagram.

Holly-Marie Cato

London photographer Holly-Marie Cato will start a conversation anywhere — a bus stop, a grocery store, a street corner. Her passion for people drives her passion for photography, and her craft is ultimately about human connection and the snapshots of encounters with strangers who become friends. To Holly, play beyond the camera looks a lot like dancing in the kitchen, singing to herself, and spending time with her loved ones.

When asked about what aspect of photography that she plays with the most, Holly says, “Definitely film photography. Picking up my Mamiya and leaving the house to find interesting people or seldom-seen parts of my city will always be play for me. More recently, I’ve been more collaborative on projects, and I want to bring friends into creative art shoots. Art directing, styling, makeup, and lighting is new and fun to me, so I’ll be leaning into this more.”

Images by Holly Marie-Cato.

Taylor Rees

When we asked Taylor Rees to introduce herself, she told us, “I am a human being,” which feels just about right for this American photojournalist, filmmaker, and educator. Her curiosity about what it means to be a human being has driven her to study ecology, environmental science, and anthropology — but that doesn’t mean she’s strictly an academic. Taylor plays in all aspects of her life, especially photography. Her unique form of playing with her craft is experimenting with the level of intimacy that she can achieve with her subjects.

When asked what aspects of play she believes the world has lost sight of, she says, “I think we have lost sight of the simplicity of play. Play is more than leisure, it’s more than escapism from ‘normal life.’ And it’s more than childhood, innocence, and the lack of responsibility. Play is the experience of life in its fullest form when we are truly living in the moment. Play involves community, coming together with each other where we engage deeply in an activity that brings out the most aliveness in ourselves and in each other.”

Images by Taylor Rees.

Olivier Wong

French engineer-turned-photographer Olivier Wong believes that every photograph he captures has a story to tell. He is based in the beautiful city of Paris, taking inspiration from the incredible urban landscape of his home. The city is his muse, but the busy work culture of “métro, boulot, dodo” (literally “subway, work, sleep”) in Paris means that it can be hard to find moments to “play” in. However, that doesn’t stop Olivier from finding his own ways to be joyfully immersed in his photography. Sunsets and sunrises are some of his favorite times to shoot, and playing with soft light, long shadows, and sun flares means that he can get uniquely creative with his camera.

Images by Olivier Wong.

Girma Berta

Hailing from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Girma Berta is an international photographer who is all about the candid moments of life. As an artist, designer, and photographer, Girma finds different ways to play in all of his mediums.

When asked about a form of play that is unique to his part of the world, Girma says, “Congregating. It feels like our Ethiopian culture is all about doing things together. That’s why we have so many private and public activities that bring us together. We indulge in so many joyous things, from food to conversation to just competing in various home-brewed play activities.”

Images by Girma Berta.

Luisa Dörr

The best way to understand Luisa Dörr is through her art. For this Brazilian photographer, words are secondary to the emotions that her photography captures — she creates photographs not because she wants to, but because she needs to. If this sounds intense, it’s because it is — but that doesn’t mean Luisa is all work and no play. To her, the camera is the best toy to play with. She is constantly experimenting, creating, and editing her photographs, and being able to play with light, shadow, and color in Lightroom is a luxury that she never takes for granted.

Images by Luisa Dörr.

Paola Franqui

Paola Franqui turned to photography as a creative outlet when she was still a criminal justice student. She quickly fell in love with street photography, with its beautiful, fleeting moments of everyday life, and never looked back. Beyond photography, Paola believes that incorporating play into our lives is the best way to improve the time that we have left on this planet.

On what aspect of photography she plays with the most, Paola says, “I love to play with reflections. Reflections are incredibly beautiful, and once you start looking for them, you’ll be surprised to discover that they are all around us. The possibilities are endless.”

Images by Paola Franqui.


From baseball to fashion to DJ to running, Japanese photographer RK has done it all. A pioneer of “DENSE” photography, which captures the intensity and density of Asian urban life, he always plays with purpose. This intentionality means that when asked about what he wants his photography to elicit in others, it comes as no surprise that RK says, “I don’t really care about what my photography elicits in other people. The good work is good, the bad work is bad. Like it or not, it always depends on each viewer, and I don’t want to insist on it. I just want to take photos with unique ideas and allow the audience to react to that organically.”

Images by RK.

Melissa Findley

Freelance travel photographer Melissa Findley finds her inspiration in the powerful beauty and wonder of the natural world. With every photograph she crafts intricate, intimate stories of the places she goes and the people she meets, immersing all of us in the culture, beauty, and emotions of the piece.

For Melissa, making time for play is an important part of her creative process. It allows her to continue to be inspired by the divine beauty of this world. When asked about what aspects of play she thinks the world has lost sight of, she replies, “The ability to live in the moment, phone-free, without caring who might be watching… or recording.”

Images by Melissa Findley.

Hopefully this diverse collection has inspired you to go out and play for yourself. Join in by sharing what play looks like in your world with the #CapturePlay hashtag on Instagram, and edit your captures of play while on-the-go with Lightroom.