Does it really matter?
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…
What about the Muse?
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! Where is the Muse in all of this?
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 some with a positive aim and others less so.
What about when we shoot nature in all her beautiful guises? Does she ‘give’ us the images? Can we really acknowledge nature as 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.
Passing back the praise
I like to take note of the wisdoms of those who explored creativity from a less cluttered point of view, I’m thinking of the ancient and highly creative cultures of Greece for example, Rome and Egypt come to mind too. Greek artists of all media and practices be it dance, music, writing and traditional art ascribed the creative act to their muse or, as it was often called their ‘genius’. The genius, or genius loci if we refer to the spirit of place, was seen as an external spirit who gifted the inspiration or the idea to the creator and therefore the creator didn’t take the praise for their creations themselves, rather they passed it back to their genius or ‘muse’.
It was only when artists began to be much vaunted for their work that their audience began to say that the artist was a genius rather than he has a genius. Note the not-so-subtle difference. Ego came into play and artists could be elevated to genius status, prices would rise and the commoner was cut out of the equation. Praise stopped at the artist.
Fast forward to today and many, many artists in all fields consider themselves as nothing more than channels or storytellers who are merely sharing what has come to them. Going to the extremes here we can think of the ideas as beings out in the universe looking for a person to give it physicality and manifest, or birth it. Hang in here please, there’s a video which explains it far more eloquently than I do.
Co-creating with my Muse
So, in my work I consider myself being given the images when I’m out on the land and I take them. When I’m back at my computer and breathing life back into the digital file I see myself as co-creating something with my muse. For this to happen I need to be as skilled as possible in the dark arts of image editing otherwise I wouldn’t know the tools to use to bring into being what the muse was showing me. I know I may be getting a bit too esoteric for some folk here, but after all my website is named ‘The Call of The Muse’ so I feel I have license to go deeply now and again!
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.