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Taking photographs or making photographs?

Just a quick - though perhaps very deep - question.
10 years ago, March 28th 2010 No: 1 Msg: #107409  
B Posts: 580
Do you take photographs or do you make photographs? Think about it, and hit me back... Reply to this

10 years ago, March 29th 2010 No: 2 Msg: #107494  
I took photos when I first started travelling, but I stopped doing it because I cant make photos. As in they dont capture what it was like for me to be in a particular place or situation. When I showed the photos to people, I knew by their comments that the photos did not show what I wanted them to show. So, now I keep the pictures in my head, as one TravelBlog member described it by private message.

People suggest all kinds, such as getting a better camera, taking photography lessons...., but I know there is more to it than that. Many TravelBlog members have good cameras but only some take photos that capure the feeling. But, I still dont know if it is my feelings which are being evoked by looking at the photos, or if it is the feeling the photographer intended to express in the photo.

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10 years ago, March 29th 2010 No: 3 Msg: #107507  
I do both, depending on the circumstance. Taking a photograph implies the acquisition of something that does not initially belong to me, thus when I document the scenery, snap a photo out a window or try to capture an image for posterity I am taking possession of that visual scene. When/if I am consciously seeking to achieve some artistic quality through framing, post-processing, editing, moving around to capture the best angle, posing etc., I make a photograph, as the end result is something that I have created with intent.

Not that I don't intentionally try to capture images of my natural surroundings/events I bare witness to in the best possible way, but I cannot claim responsibly for anything inherently aesthetically appealing I just happened to come across. I could potentially be held responsible for seeing two seemingly disparate objects and juxtaposing them in some way.

I'm much better at taking good photographs, I feel. But I do try to make them as well - to varying degrees of success.

Edited to add: Now this has me thinking about the possible implications of art vs. function, in which I would gather than photographs taken serve more a utilitarian purpose - show to friend or serve a visual mnemonic device - whereas photographs made don't necessarily have any purpose other than to be a good photograph or to illustrate the skill of the photographer as such (the artist). A very good question, by the way.
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10 years ago, March 30th 2010 No: 4 Msg: #107540  
B Posts: 5,195
I interpreted the question as; (as Stephanie with art vs. function)

To take a photo - point the camera and capture the obvious.

To make a photo - something that required some work or a creative step - eg. getting down and shooting at an unusual angle, framing, looking for contrasts or waiting for that exact moment that something interesting happens.

I do both - though the first is easier - I have to be in the right mood for the second.

One other way to look at it might be to look at the verb to take - an approach that gives nothing back to either the subject or viewer... Reply to this

10 years ago, March 30th 2010 No: 5 Msg: #107599  
I'll ditto Ali on this one. Although now that I really like the product of making a photograph, I find it harder to just take a snap-shot. I've become a bit of a photosnob who either takes time to get photos right or doesn't take them at all. It can be kinda tiring to think so much about photos that should just be a an easy press of the button.

But, as a pro wedding photographer friend of mine points out, the fact that it still takes thought to get the picture I want proves that I don't practice enough...

Mike T. Reply to this

10 years ago, March 30th 2010 No: 6 Msg: #107607  

Do you take photographs or do you make photographs?

This linguistic nuance is a distinction without a difference in my humble opinion. Reply to this

10 years ago, March 30th 2010 No: 7 Msg: #107608  
B Posts: 580
As you may or may not know, tourists get a pretty rough ride by anthropologists. Existing literature on their photographic behavior tends towards speculation portraying tourists as a wasteland of pre-programmed shooting where tourists are not so much framing as already framed by the tourism industry’s spectacular economy of signs. Tourists are seen as taking or re-producing images and ideas already ‘out there’.

Tourist photographs are not enacted in a social vacuum. Those images that circulate on travelblog, television, film, magazines, postcards and so on, unquestionably influence what we then decide to photograph and how. We’ve all done it; the Machu Pichu/Taj Mahal shot; we’ve seen it a thousand times and yet we seek to reproduce that exact same image, maybe even place ourselves in the shot to show we were there. Just recently I was in Grand Teton National Park and actually asked at the information centre for the exact spot a particular photo was taken. It was an image I had been drooling over for months and just had to ‘take it’ for myself.

Yet even in those ‘snap-shots’ we often take whimsically, or at the spur of the moment in a particular destination, have to be framed by us. We decide which direction to point the camera and when to push that button. So in this sense, we are producing images for ourselves and for a future audience. Therefore, I personally believe –contrary to dominant theoretical thought - we are in the business of making photographs, memories, social relations and places.
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10 years ago, March 31st 2010 No: 8 Msg: #107618  
Your position has merit - but I can also see how the reproduction of images and ideas (even as re-production) has social significance. Might I suggest that as (or if, so you please) people experience the world within varying degrees of expectation, the snapping of a photograph becomes a performance of identity. Getting 'that shot' becomes a legitimizing act for the actor as tourist, similar to the way other embodied behaviors legitimize status and inclusion elsewhere. That is is viewed to be 'pre-programmed' or done 'unconsciously' on the part of the individual is because it has become habituated.

Or maybe not. I haven't read the literature on it (and now I want to - maybe it'll make its way onto the pile...if I'm lucky) but am always in the mood for academic babbling (at least on my part). However I'll be schlepping through a smorgasbord of other anthropological and sociological literature on tourism, social memory and embodiment over the next few weeks so I'd like return to this afterward.

Categorically, though, I still feel there is a general distinction drawn between snapshots and photography, whether it is linguistically represented as take vs make, art vs product, or some other such way, which is evident in a few of the comments above. But that now becomes an entirely separate discussion.

- Stephanie Reply to this

10 years ago, March 31st 2010 No: 9 Msg: #107630  
B Posts: 580

I can also see how the reproduction of images and ideas (even as re-production) has social significance.


With this idea of making or producing rather than taking, I'm actually attempting to build upon the idea of tourists re-producing images they may have seen. Or for that matter, non-photographic ideas they have ‘acquired’ via dominant discourse on family, fun, tourist, vacation, beach, Africa, Alabama etc etal.

So rather than attempting to render this ‘hermeneutic circle’ irrelevant; I wish to highlight how people/tourists are acting upon the dominant discourse and building from it; re-producing with modifications. Tourism is of course staged and performed but I'd like to believe tourists can transcend the ‘unreflexive embodied tourist’ to one who may be a little more fluid and reflexive.

However, some of the theory I've come across (which I could hunt down and reference) suggests that the 'art' or 'romantic' style photography is actually more a reflection of the dominant discourse and is thus less 'original' or 'authentic' than the humble snapshot!

'that shot' becomes a legitimizing act for the actor as tourist, similar to the way other embodied behaviors legitimize status and inclusion elsewhere.

Would getting 'that shot' legitimize the actor as a 'tourist' or as someone who sees themselves as an 'accomplished photographer’? Because (just to muddy the waters a little) I know people who would consider the very act of taking photographs as a tourist act, (regardless of a subjective ‘quality’) and furthermore they as anti-tourist/travelers attempt to shake the label of tourist by NOT taking pictures.

snapping a photograph becomes a performance of identity

This touches on my own research since I'm attempting to document understandings of indigeneity by both host and guest, and how these understandings may be performed during their encounter with each other (the visual record of tourist photography will hopefully be invaluable in this regard).

By the way, if I may ask, what are you researching? I had an inkling it may have been along tourist lines when you mentioned Destination Culture in another forum. Incidentally, although I’m yet to read any of his work, Tim Edensor brings together embodiment and tourism, if you’re interested. It’s actually on my own ‘to read’ pile…speaking of which I should get back…
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10 years ago, March 31st 2010 No: 10 Msg: #107648  
I am pre-researching my research, which is to say then, than I am researching a bit of everything in broad sweeping categories at the moment.

Currently I'm doing my master's in food studies/food culture, trying to figure out a specific angle for doctoral research within the general categories of place-making and the role of culinary tourism in reifying cuisine as a hallmark of national identity. Opens implications of consuming the ethnic other and internalizing culture through food....I'm sure there's a great question in there somewhere, but I haven't been thinking about it long enough to have found it quite yet, which is why my readings/thoughts are a bit scattered.

Your research sounds great. The anthropology of tourism is such a small field, like food, but growing. Smith's Hosts & Guests is also on my list, and I'd say it might be dated by now but... I'm not sure of anything that has replaced it.

Would getting 'that shot' legitimize the actor as a 'tourist' or as someone who sees themselves as an 'accomplished photographer’?

Achieving the perfect shot may later lessen the stigma of tourism in lieu of artistic brilliance, but implicit in that distinction is that the two (tourist and photography) are somehow interrelated. Similar attempts are made with excessive display of photographic equipment, prolonged and serious thought while figuring out the light or angle or some such - to distance oneself from a supposedly base activity, other more honorable purposes are postured. An astute observer might notice a difference in the ease and fluidity of which one handles the equipment, while the casual observer will probably not. "I am not taking photos because I'm a tourist. Oh no, I'm taking a picture of the exact same sunset as this guy over here but I'm a photographer/artist/professional. And you can tell my photo is subjectively better and my equipment is visible fancier." Distinguishing oneself with a camera from a tourist implies that a distinction is necessary. For those who are self-conscious of being tourists, being a 'photographer' is perhaps a nice veil.

This is, of course, me speaking from a context where tourism and travel are heavily laden with particular class and status associations. I highly doubt the same meanings of photography can be applied to, say, Japanese tourists as their use of the camera is completely different than that of the Americans, for instance. Or even the way a self-proclaimed back-packer might distinguish him/herself from the camper-van family. So knowing who is behind the camera and who is viewing the photos is key.
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10 years ago, March 31st 2010 No: 11 Msg: #107654  
B Posts: 580
I think you could well be onto something with the 'photographer veil' theory, I particularly like the idea of the technological 'props' the photographer/artist/professional uses in their performance to further differentiate themselves. I noticed the "everyone move out the way I've got a tripod" phenomena some years back at the Grand Canyon; whereby tourists with tripods would literally barge people aside and take front stage when it came to taking that same picture countless others were in the process of taking. It makes me think that perhaps there could even be a market for specific photography clothing (forgive me my ignorance if this already exists/anyone want to invest in an exciting business venture if it doesn't?).

Further, to your query about the Japanese tourists. Sontag (who was a photographer rather than an anthropologist) theorized that photographs simply give tourists something to do. One of the problems of leisure is that it is defined negatively as an absence of work. During a vacation, photography fills this gap; it gives the tourist an endless task of locate, point, and shoot. And nobody works harder than the Japanese, right?
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10 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 12 Msg: #108438  
I'm a bit late to this conversation, but will still make a small contribution.

I agree with Ali's definition in message 4, and I prefer to follow the making of photographs, though I believe that this process would most likely involve something being shifted - whether that be a perspective or person - in order to get the desired result. There is, I believe, a limit to what steps can be taking to make a photograph so that it doesn't become too contrived. The news cameras can often be accussed of this - for example, protestors putting on a more verbal or physical demonstration just because they know the world is watching. Would this occur demonstration occurs anyway, or does a camera heighten the reactions? People with cameras also need to be wary of this factor.

The reason for me favouring the making approach are twofold. The first is to share my experiences with the family and friends back home. Since I almost always travel on my own, this is an important consideration. However, the main reason is because I love to create. The US psychologist, Abraham Maslow, stated that the most essential ingredient to achieve self-actualisation was that of creativity - and it is something I have pursued my whole life in various forms. Trying to form that ever elusive perfect photo or blog is an immense joy to me. When at home I rarely photograph or write blogs, as there are many other creative pursuits instead, but on the open road, it is the only outlet. When people question me as to what three possessions are most important, I always choose in order: Health, Freedom, Creativity.

Not only is the question to ponder whether you take or make photographs, but are there factors that dissuade you from taking or making any photos? For me, this normally occurs when a local person is sharing information about their lives, beliefs, hopes and dreams. Though one may be located a quiet corner of a restaurant or on a bus, both of which are public locations, such conversations can be personal and intimate. Despite my desire to make a photo to permanently record this event, to suddenly produce a large camera - an item that many people see an intrusive - would detract from that moment. Thus, there are many sights I see on my travels that I would never record or never write about. Reply to this

10 years ago, April 11th 2010 No: 13 Msg: #108471  
B Posts: 580

I think you've taken this discussion to another level when talking about the actual 'subject' of the picture and their reaction or 'performance' to being photographed. In the English language we generally use the phrase 'posing' for photographs, with good reason in my opinion. Isn't the point that a photograph is always contrived by both the photographer (who chooses what to photograph and how) and the subject, who chooses how to perform when the camera is pointed at them (either consciously or unconsciously).

These factors unquestionably influence the portrayal or "reality" in as you mention, the news media, but in their case, as well as our own; the power to contrive a certain image of reality is in the editing process; in taking photographs; what do we decide to include and leave out; and then in selecting photographs to portray a particular situation; what do we then choose to include or leave out?

An example of this, which is used time and time again, is the distribution of 'aid' to 'starving' or 'impoverished' people. An aid truck will arrive at a predetermined time, which both 'aid receivers' and media will be aware of. A crowd will form, be made to wait, and then when the aid is distributed i.e. thrown to the assembled crowd; giving a great media image of 'desperation' or 'hunger'. Of course, the distribution could be conducted in a more organised and efficient manner, but it doesn't make for good media. Imagine if a chocolate bar manufacturer were offering to distribute free chocolate in Time Square at X O'Clock....and then the bars were thrown from the back of a truck...

I think your conundrum of not wishing to make your photographs "too contrived" juxtaposes nicely with your last paragraph in which you fret about the ethical or intrusive aspects of photographing people in private or personal situations. Can we ever be that 'fly on the wall', and even if we could, would it be ethical to share that information with anyone else?

Your middle paragraph is of more of a personal note, though still very interesting theoretically, as you say you strive for "that ever elusive perfect photo or blog". Yet, my question would be; how would you know you'd achieved this goal? Does the number of positive comments/hits on a blog or five-stars on a photograph really represent quality or perfection? Or is it simply a representation or reflection of the dominant discourse on what makes something artistic, beautiful, interesting, perfect or well-written etc? Of course the idea of self-actualisation is of a very personal experience; so would these same factors then influence that state of being?

On a final - off topic - note on your "hierarchy of possessions"; would you rather be sick and free, or healthy and enslaved;-) Reply to this

10 years ago, April 19th 2010 No: 14 Msg: #109076  
Sorry about the delay in responding, but the mental demands of work lately has interfered with my attempts to provide a considered response.

It is difficult to avoid a contrived photo, for as soon as you, as an outsider, enters an area, the whole dynamic changes. It is the same belief that the fluttering of a butterflies wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world - but on a smaller scale. As soon as you enter such a space - someone will see you and walk away, someone will pause their movement, someone will walk towards you - you have irrevocably changed that moment. And how a photographer captures that now changed scene will reveal in some form their impressions of the scene. For example, two photographers at the same place may construct two very different type of photos - based partly on skill and also on their opinion of what they see and feel.

The fly on the wall scenario is a true one - it is hard enough being an outsider in a country and trying to garner an accurate impression; people will curb comments to you for a variety of reasons, but the longer you stay in an area or with a person, generally the more candour emerges. I am intrigued when I see documentaries and travel shows that feign the impression of being able to see the "real side" of a people and its country. As soon as you put a camera near most individuals, their persona and candour will change. The experiences I have when travelling are only possible because I do not have a cameraman and sound recordist a few metres away.

What is a good photo for me is largely determined by my opinion of it - I believe that there are a few photos I've taken that would be difficult for me to improve, so am very happy with those. Blogs are slightly different - generally the blogs which are written better tend to get the most hits - so that is an affirmation in itself. For me though, comments are the most valued, insofar as someone has taken the time to provide their thoughts. This was one of the reasons I was so satisfied with my North Korean blogs, it generated a lot of comment and many private messages. My aim was to present a non-emotive and non-judgmental observation of the country for people to consider, and it seems to have succeeded.

Finally, onto the Hierarchy of Needs, the difference between sick and free and and healthy and enslaved would depend of the amount of illness. Overall, I would choose sick and free - unless I was so sick that my freedom was seriously compromised. The concept of freedom is a fundamental belief of me. It also explains why I do not have a mortgage, car, or spend my money on the latest fashion or gadgets - thus allowing me the freedom to escape more often. This approach is best surmised in the novel by Joe Orton and Ken Halliwell called "The Boy Hairdresser" which contains the following passage:

"Do you know what subreption is?" said Donelly.
"To obtain something by misrepresentation. This is what our civilization does - it hold carrots in the air to
make donkeys work. Do you know what it wants in exchange for a house, a car, a larger house, two cars, a television
in every room?"
"It wants our lives."
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