Greetings and welcome to my blog –
I’d like to begin this experiment in verbal discourse about a visual subject by talking to a subject that, for me, lies at the heart of what we do.
I believe that how we think and speak about our work determines how we perceive and go about it. Therefore I believe that we need to think about and change the language of our medium.
The first word that needs replaced is “take.”
May I “take” your picture? I’m going to “take” a picture of that mountain.
Take suggests that you are acquiring something that is already made or completed. In my mind it is dangerously close to steal, possess without permission, or worse – to gain control over something that you did not exert any energy in creating.
The definition of the verb is “to lay hold of something,” “to get into one’s possession, power or control,” “to seize or capture,” or to “carry or bring.” Synonyms include get hold of, bring, bear, transport, convey, transfer. Nothing in there references the creative process.
Those who know me, especially via the Moab Photography Symposium, know that I promote the term “make.” Let’s go make a photograph. Or we could simply replace take with “Let’s go photograph.” The root of photograph is “light-drawing” which suggests the action of drawing. Drawing requires a combination of intently perceiving, thinking, talking to oneself, visually measuring to calculate placement of objects, tones, etc. on the paper, adjusting, selecting what to include and exclude and a host of other active decisions.
The verb form of “make” is defined as: form something by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create; to cause something (in our case an image) to exist or come into being. Synonyms include construct, build, assemble, produce and form. Is this not what we do?
When we are out for a hike and come across an interesting landscape subject we start assembling an image in our mind, we start working the scene by moving slowly to begin finding the best position and angle. As we gather objects before our eye and placing them in our composition by adjusting our position and selecting the tools (lenses) we want to use, we also turn to our inner landscape to gather our thoughts and emotions that in some fashion match the forming external scene. We keep honing in on the juncture of the external and internal landscape. I view the process as having a conversation. I employ objects in the natural world to help express thought and feelings from my internal landscape. I listen quietly and intently to what the elements in both landscapes saying. Sometimes they shout with glee. At other times they whisper. We set our final composition. We set our camera functions and re-check the firmness of our tripod. The shutter is triggered. We go home and re-enter the process of bringing the image into being via post-processing, printing and sharing. All along the path of creativity we have engaged with our subject, with our equipment, with ourselves. We have “taken” nothing….for granted. We make photographs.
The other word that needs replaced is “shoot.” I’m a pacifist. I get the jitters when I see children making a gun with their folded fingers and pointing them at a friend. With a gun we “shoot” and “take” a life and there is far too much of that happening in the world today for me to be comfortable using that term in the beautiful and personally sacred creative act of expressing the beauty of self and the natural world with a camera.
“Shoot” implies an element of speed – the force of a racing bullet, and a target. A target is usually outside of us – a deer to feed the family, or antlers to hang on the wall – an avowed enemy who is training his weapon on us – the person shot in the act of self-defense outside of a military conflict, or the innocent victim of a robbery or murder. Do we now hold the gun? I guess I’m influenced by too many western movies, spy novels and murder mysteries, and the constant barrage of TV shows and video games that advocate, highlight and celebrate gun violence, not to mention the ongoing headlines of shootings in many cities in America.
My photography is a refuge from all of that.
In stark contrast to “shoot” in the aforementioned environment is the use of “shoot” to describe the fresh growth of a new plant as its young, slender form just emerges from the nurturing soil. New life. New life full of possibility that will eventually grow, blossom, flower, seed and even provide sustenance to animal, human and even its own kinds as it completes its life journey.
One syllable. Three.
Select Definitions of “shoot” from Merriam-Webster (online)
* to eject or impel or cause to be ejected or impelled by a sudden
release of tension
* to drive forth or cause to be driven forth by an explosion
* to discharge, dump, or empty especially by overturning, upending, or
directing into a slide
* to wound or kill with a missile discharged from a bow or firearm
* to engage in the hunting and killing of (as game) with firearms
especially as a sport
* to pass swiftly by, past, or along
* shoot from the hip: to act or speak hastily without consideration of
The most common uses of “shoot” have far too many negative overtones for me to want to infect my creative process by using it. I prefer my photographs to be considered, thoughtful and usually paced a bit slower than a speeding bullet.
To “make” a photograph takes considered time.
Photographing invites a more lyrical and poetic approach to image making. Drawing with light takes time and the “target” is internal – it is ourselves.
Let’s honor the entire process and MAKE photographs!