Monterosso, Italy. 2010. Photo credit: Jeffrey Chapman.
I feel a rant coming on. I can already hear people rolling their eyes on this one, but hear me out. This morning I made a quick tweet about a pet peeve of mine and got an interesting array of responses. Clearly 140 characters on Twitter is not the best place to nail my theses to the door and start my new religion, so I’ll do it here. And in the spirit of all great reformations I’m going in hard. No holds barred. I’m going to paint with broad brushes, make sweeping generalizations and – dammit, Jim – I might even throw a baby out with the bathwater. But that’s what reformations are like. They’re messy. And not everyone agrees. So I’m expecting some actual discussion here.
So. Here we go.
Could we please, please, for the love of Elliott Erwitt, stop calling photographs “snaps,” “pics,” “photos” or any of the other diminutive words we use to refer to our photographs? Please? If not for me, do it for the children.
I’m not being pedantic, and I’m not trying to make trouble, honest I’m not. But honestly, if I hear one more person refer to the hard work of one of my friends as a “pic” I’ll, well, I’ll snap.
Words matter. We put so much effort into our craft, hoping to create work that resonates, that’s more than the sum of its parts. We wrestle to discover our vision and then to express it with these limited tools. We create work that we’re proud of. We hope, some of us, to bring that work to the broader world in books, exhibits, and prints. We risk. We fail. We triumph. And some of us hope to bring that work to the marketplace and get prices that reflect those efforts, prices that allow us to keep doing this, prices that don’t completely demean our efforts. And we do all this against the flow of a market that’s increasingly apathetic and unwilling to pay even a fraction of what we hope. We struggle to educate friends and family about the value of our work, hoping to God they won’t ask us one more time to “just bring your camera along and make some snaps.”
And in all that we reference our own work as snaps or pics. Jeezo peezo, no wonder people don’t respect our work; we don’t respect it enough not to refer to it in cutesy, shorthanded, diminutive language that implies our work is no more than the matter of pressing a button. If you deeply love and respect your work and the work of others, you might still use these words, but I’m not sure they communicate that love and respect.
So what am I hoping for? Nothing, really. I know it’s an uphill battle. I’m phasing those words out of my vocabulary but I’m not asking for others to do the same. I’m just tossing the idea out there – a bone to be chewed. Would you pay as much for a snap as for a photograph? If you’d laboured hard to create an image you’re proud of and hung that print with care in a gallery, would you not feel a little like your work had been trivialized when someone walked by and said, “Nice snap”?
Words, despite their own devalued currency these days, matter. I’m no art snob and I’m not calling for people to elevate their work, or mine, more than it merits, because your art must stand or fall on its merits, despite your choice of words in describing it. But I am suggesting that as the creators of this work we care enough to do it to the best of our abilities, to wrestle our vision to the ground on days it proves elusive, and to speak about our work – and the work of others – with something more than familiarity and flippant shorthand. Your work is worth more than that.