Some thoughts about the way we talk about photographs. As always, I think the questions are more important than the answers. I’m not looking for consensus, just giving voice to my own thoughts and questions. Yours might be different.
Thought the First.
“Nice capture,” says nothing about what you felt when you experienced a photograph. It says nothing about art. It says nothing, really, more than, “Good job.” Our hearts are in the right place, I know, but we can do better. In this language, aside from it perpetuating the language of predation (we shoot, we capture), there’s something missing: creation. Photographs are made, they are not captured. The best of them are profoundly more than just nice, or simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. And the photographers saying the most interesting things with their photographs are not looking for praise, but for an attentive audience.
Thought the Second.
What if our first response to a photograph was to listen to the photographer? What if, when it was finally time to talk about the photograph, we did so with greater humility, even greater vulnerability? What if we used that photograph as a starting place for a discussion about what the photographer was pointing at, instead of the prevalent, “If this was my photograph, I’d have done…” to which my only reply is, “Stop talking about it and go make your own photograph.”
Thought the Third
One of the things I hear often in image discussions is how this or that element in the photograph “is distracting.” I think we need to begin these discussions with the assumption the photographer is pointing at something and our first job is to look for it. It’s valid to ask “does the photographer want me looking at X or Y in this frame, because that’s where my eye gets pulled.” To skip that and go straight to, “that’s a distraction,” skips the important step of asking what the photographer’s saying and goes straight to assuming he should have done it the way we’d done it. Photography is a language; we could use a little more listening in photography and a little less talking.
Thought the Fourth
I think we’d all make better photographs if we stopped talking so much about them, and asking others what they think about them, and go made more photographs. Unless of course it’s not photographs we’re interested in but the praise of others. Sometimes a photograph is a means to say, “Look at this!” and other times a means to say, “Look at me!” I’ve got too many of the latter and not enough of the former. The ones made for the latter will always be forgettable.