Taking versus making

Posted in caught, thought, wrought by juliobesq on August 11, 2009


Without a camera I should have been writing, instead I have been thinking about not having a camera, and what having one means in terms of art.

I came across this quote

why do we talk of ‘taking’ a photograph rather than ‘making’ a photograph

in the flickr stream of the-g-uk. In itself a good question, and the best answer I could give myself is a word that keeps appearing in these posts – intention. I had wanted to lead onto another quote I saw regarding the mild controversy and debate surrounding Esquire magazines ‘moto’, but I failed to bookmark the web page containing it and instead merely made a mental note, a much more fallible approach to documentation.

First the quote out-of-context and paraphrased

it depends on wether you think photography is merely the art of pressing the shutter at the right moment, or wether the photographer’s preparation and intent count for anything

That word again, intent, which divides snapshots from photographs: it isn’t the act of clicking at the correct time but in deciding that there should be a button press. In setting out to create the image the shutter release is simply one mechanical part along the path from mental concept, through stages of organisation and decision, leading to the resolution of a final image.

The photo that accompanies this post sits on the borderline for me, in that there was no intent to take it, but there was a deliberate act in taking the camera with me that day, in seeing the potential of the cropped or framed image. Abstract painters don’t have this issue, pigment can lead to more pigment that completes a painting, whereas authors can not apply words they like the sound of to create a narrative; photography sits betwixt the two. Charles Harbutt in his essay ‘I don’t take pictures; pictures take me’ says this

Photography is not art; it is something totally new in human experience, something people have not been able to do before the last century or so. Photography is not art because the basic impulse of the photographer is diametrically opposed to the basic impulse of the artist at least in one large respect. The artist tries to bring into existence something new that never had concrete existence before. The photographer tries to bring into existence something new that preserves something that already has concrete existence but will cease to exist in just that way in the next moment or day or year…

Before returning to motos, a more personal aside. In the last couple of years I have radically reworked my view on photography and instead of mocking what is seen as an oriental approach is taking snapshots, namely always having people in front of landmarks, I now mainly eschew the landscape photo and instead focus upon the person.

Harbutt’s quote works particularly well for landscape but could be recontextualised for portraiture, in that the photographer is not trying to capture how the sitter appeared at that moment but how it felt to be in their presence.

The portrait photographer’s skill lies not in capturing the magic moment, but in making the subject feel relaxed, comfortable enough that they act without preconception and in doing so reveal a part their un-staged self.

Which would be a good way of looking at motos, a horrible compoundment of motion and photo. Debate arose surrounding the use of a RedOne video camera by Chase Davis when he shot a cover for Esquire magazine. In essence he filmed Megan Fox and then ran the footage through video editing software and chose a frame as the final ‘photograph’, thus by-passing the ‘decisive moment’ that marks a great photographer. Up till now at least.

The camera is just a tool, a stage, that sits between the interaction of the photographer and photographee. (And the possibility of motos in a world of plasma screens opens up new aesthetics, moving us one step closer to Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age).

But tools are decisions and therefore integral to the creative process, here’s two quotes from the sidebar of, a blog documenting urbanites and their vintage cameras

I don’t think about what camera I should use that much. I just pick up the one that looks nicest on the day
William Eggleston

If you want to change your photographs, you need to change cameras. Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura.
Nobuyoshi Araki

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