I remember not so long ago there was a move by many photographers to stop using the word ‘take‘ when referring to the creation of a photograph, ‘make‘ being seen as a far more accurate description of the process.
To make a photograph does seem to place the responsibility of the creation firmly in the hands of the photographer, or author as many at that time wanted to call the creator. At the time I too saw the rightness in this. Taking appeared to be an act of possession rather than creation. Making a photo recognised the work the photographer did to create the image.
With the advent of digital photography the new word ‘capture‘ has come into the argument, further complicating the matter. So I ask, which phrase do you prefer? Take, Make or Capture?
In a sense all three may be correct, and we have to ask whether it really matters. Well for me, yes and no.
When I create a photograph I do need to own the fact that I made the capture. I composed the frame, choose the exposure and then pressed the button. I too optimised and processed the image in my chosen software, so yes, I’m happy to have ownership and responsibility for that. I captured the data presented to me by light and form, using my camera to trap the lightwaves and convert them into a form that I could then manipulate into my final image. Yes, I captured and made the photograph.
However the part of this that I’m not comfortable with is my assumption that ‘I’ made it. Surely it was a collusion between me and my subject whether that be a person, a bird or a place. We made it. But then it just gets messy!
So, I come full circle and explore the thought of ‘taking’ the photo. ‘Taking’ as in reaching out, grasping hold of and taking the photo as my own. Is this an aggressive, dominating, selfish act? It certainly can be. Photographs can be taken when the subject would rather they weren’t. The workings of the paparazzi come to mind, no doubt you can think of other circumstances.
Down at the anti-fracking protection camp at Barton Moss I had my photo taken countless times by the police who are no doubt building up a file of suspects, protestors and the like. I didn’t really mind, I’m standing proud with the folk down there and taking my own photographs to help preserve and protect our one and only Earth.
While on site there I took photographs of the protestors (or protectors as they’d rather be known). However, they wanted their photos taken, they trust me. So did they ‘give’ me the photos? Absolutely. And I then took them. Now we are delving into a whole new territory of word play that borders on photo philosophy and it’s well worth looking into this a bit more to see where it can lead us.
When we photograph someone with their full consent maybe they are giving us the image and we then take this gift? If we take a photo without their knowledge perhaps we are still taking it, but I’m not ascribing any ill intent or ethical wrongdoing here. Somewhere in the mists of my past I remember hearing of tribal people who declined to have their pictures taken, thinking the process actually does take something away from them.
What about when we shoot nature in all her beautiful guises? Does she ‘give’ us the images? Can we really acknowledge nature being able to consciously work with us in the picture making process? These are big questions, ones that are all too easy to shy away from as we are venturing into spirituality, consciousness and similar fields that can be challenging.
First of all, have you watched this Ted talk on the creative genius by Elizabeth Gilbert? The spirit of place has long been talked about by landscape photographers and artists as the entity, emotion, connection, atmosphere that delivers or inspires the image. I’m not going to try to sum up her words, please watch the talk, it speaks volumes about creative connection. I always find that if I spend time with my subject I get better shots. Getting to know the person, the place, the plant never fails to make a difference and is something that I advocate amongst my workshop students.
Building on this idea, if we create a connection with our subject on a conscious level should we then silently ask for its cooperation in the creation of our photos? This approach definitely changes the relationship between photographer and subject and engenders a feeling of being gifted the photo which we then gratefully take.
Perhaps this all sounds like esoteric woo-hoo new age twoddle but could I suggest not knocking it before trying it, and watch that video…