Take, Make or Capture???

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.

  • Roger Foulkes says:

    Very interesting topic and discussion, Jason. The short film succinctly verbalises some
    abatract thoughts about creativity. I think that the majority of us absolutely just take
    photographs or snapshots, but as the learning process awakens the mind to the foundations
    of photography, the technical knowledge and the artistic, imaginative processes, one becomes increasingly aware of the fact that, the rewards, in the form of great photographs, require
    more and more effort and so the procedure developes (excuse the pun) into making a photograph.
    As far as the “muse” is concerned, I feel that, probably, she can be involved at varying points in the “making” of a photograph, for example,the inspiration to go to a particular place at a particular time,
    or the favouring of a particular composition over other possible ones, but something inspires a specific choice over others.
    Obviously there are instances when an individual can land a great picture fortuitously, but not often.
    I think that, more often than not, those pictures that look as though the photographer was just lucky, are instead the result of a great amount of learning, awareness and preparation. No gain without
    pain, so to speak, although “work/effort” itself, can be arduous as it may have been to you when meeting the demands of numerous commissions in limited time, as opposed to the work/effort involved in your current work, which I think, is very pleasing to you, as is the case for the likes of me. It is demanding “work” but it is of importance only to me. Does that make sense ? Just a few unclear rambling thoughts.

    • jason says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here Roger. There’s so much depth to be explored with this topic isn’t there. Who we ascribe our work too is becoming more important to me.

  • Roger Foulkes says:

    Further to my comment, I would add that I completely agree that “capture” is too strong
    and aggressive a term to describe the type of photography that you, and we, as members of
    the group are involved in.

  • Fascinating read and equally fascinating video. I have always thought of it as light or ‘the magic’, sometimes I have had that internal light or magic when dancing, often not. Sometimes it is so bright there is an awareness that is it more than you, some connection with the divine, so overwhelming it can make you cry with loss once it is gone. It always has that feeling of the spirits aligning when it happens, everything in alignment but also sadly that awareness that you are unlikely to capture it again for a while and the only way to be open to the next piece of magic is to follow your heart and let it flow through you and wait and know that sometimes it might show up within a new guise, a photograph, a written line, a comforting word. Look for it in everything. I do think it becomes easier to deal with magic moments of creativity as you get older, knowing they are like rare gems, more exquisite, more precious as you let go of the desire for them and allow yourself to open to a heightened sense of creativity throughout every aspect of your life.

    • jason says:

      Thank you Anne, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a real guiding light of a book and I recommend it often. Your words truly sum up the sense of awe and magic that sometimes happens when we let go and give way to our felt sensation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently and giving much food for thought here.

  • Jason, I think you have really opened a Pandora’s Box here! If I look at what my creative process is (and it’s taken me a while to realise this), it has it roots in that of Ansel Adams, namely,: Observation, Visualisation and Realisation (and of course Ansel did add an essential precursor to all this: the desire to photograph..) So, where does capturing, taking or making or creating come in this for me? Firstly, I notice (now what gives rise to me noticing is an interesting question). Having noticed, and quite often before I raise the camera to my eye, I visualise the image that I want to see made physical, although not always. Assuming I have, I then position myself and my camera in order to create the frame that I will then ‘capture’ by pressing the shutter (sometimes this is fairly immediate, sometime it can take hours). For me, I think I am capturing something or even receiving something rather than taking something as I am concerned with a record of an instant, albeit of minute fractions of a second or indeed of many seconds. If I am lucky this record will also contain something perhaps unforseen which will enrich what I first visualised. Now, we come to the realisation phase, which is more akin to making or creating and this is to take the record and develop it – at this point, what has been taken or captured or received is then down to my creativity and skill (and some pretty fancy pieces of software ;)!

    • Having slept on this, I decided that I need to reply to my own comment as what I have shared above is only half the story. So, what happens if my Muse or my Genius desert me or if I lose my mojo?
      Firstly, there is less desire to photograph, if any. Then… I do not notice so much and… there isn’t that ‘lucky’ enrichment. Finally, I spend hours with the pretty fancy pieces of software and produce nothing or nothing of substance. In such circumstances, there is only one solution: keep going! (thanks Elizabeth Gilbert;)

      • jason says:

        Thank you for your considered comments here John, I appreciate your taking the time to share. The more deeply we look into this process the more informed we can be about our own creativity and understand what, or who, drives it. As you say, when everything fails and we lose our connection the way forward is to simply keep going and know that in this way we will recover, eventually.

  • Linda Owen says:

    I have found this very interesting, Jason and certainly food for thought and consideration.
    It is something that I strive to understand but your words and the TED talk has given me a deeper insight and put in to words a topic that is sometimes difficult to formulate and convey.

    Creativity is certainly a topic that should be more openly discussed as it seems to be something that (for example, in the education system) is not recognised as having worthwhile value.

    I absolutely love going out and using my camera and it may take hours or even weeks of doing this before I have that one image that is special to me. The process can be disappointing at times and I agree with John that it can result in not having the desire to go out with the camera. However, if I can persuade myself to get out there again, even to just go out and look around me, the desire to carry on can be overwhelming. Where this desire comes from I am not sure. No, it is not easy as Roger said, and I feel that I have a very long way to go, but I see it as a challenge that I want to carry on with as I am , in the main, enjoying the process of learning and ‘producing’ photographs.
    Inspiring words!

    • Roger Foulkes says:

      I concur with what yu say Linda, it seems disappointing sometimes, but it’s so good to get out with the camera and enjoy the day. I also enjoy looking at and thinking about other people’s work. I feel that we are learning all the time and that can’t be bad. Photography beats Latin any day.