Tuesday, May 17, 2022

That Ole Authoritarian Tango

If you pay attention to mainstream photography media, social and otherwise, you will notice pretty often calls to remove the verb "to shoot" from the photographer's vocabulary. The association with firearms is harmful and unnecessary, and photographers are already just so exploitive, we should remove this and use "capture" or something.

This oft repeated platitude is often repeated by vaguely amiable fairly nice people who simply want the world to be a better place.

It originates, though, in a much less healthy impulse: the urge to force people to bend the knee and submit to demands. It doesn't matter what demands. As Orwell noted, the point of power is power, and this applies even to the most venal and trivial situations.

It is also, of course, deeply stupid. The verb "to shoot" is ubiquitous in sport, but somehow nobody seems willing to tell soccer (football, <cough>) players to stop "shooting" at the goal. Nobody tells someone facing a challenge to avoid terminology like "best shot" or "shoot the moon." Nobody suggests that fountains do not shoot water into the air ("consider less loaded options like 'ejaculate.'")

It turns out, once you start looking around, photography is absolutely wall-to-wall with these kinds of trivial demands that one kneel.

These days it's popular to dress it up in an ethical/social-justice framework. Informed consent is so necessary but at the same time, somehow, no degree of informing is ever quite enough. No practical, real, degree of consent is actually satisfactory. We see it also, though, in aesthetic demands. Your pictures should be in focus, or not, the colors should be accurate, nor not, or whatever. Sequence this way, not that way. How can you expect to be properly derivative of <name> unless you slavishly copy and submit to my program?

Everyone wants to tell you what you're doing wrong, everyone wants you to submit to their program.

The broadest form of this I have noted is people who are constantly angling for the role of curator and/or critic, based on little more than a kind of dopey personal taste. I can name any number of names of people who have been beavering away trying with more or less success to build a kind of authority, invariably without actually doing much work developing a basis for that desired authority. They skim Barthes and Benjamin, and then they spend years banging away conflating their personal taste with some objective notion of quality, marketing the shit out of themselves.

I dare say this impulse is universal, but from where I sit this morning, it strikes me that photography seems especially full of know-nothing idiots striving against all the other know-nothing idiots to be put "in charge" of some nebulous something or other, to become the boss, to be granted the authority to direct Photography writ large.

Honestly, ignore all these fucking people. Ignore me too.

Or rather, read or listen to what seems useful, and sort it carefully. Throw away anything that's just a demand that you kneel, whether first-hand or tenth, and take away the bits and pieces that you can actually use.

In the end, it's just rectangles full of blobs of tone and color. As long as you don't wind up outing some rat to a mob assassin, nothing you do is going to cause any actual harm, no matter how badly you do it.


  1. The trouble with photography is that it's too easy. Like exercise, people need constant reassurance they're doing it *right*.

    The curious thing about "shoot" (or ejaculate, if you prefer) as a photo verb is that a camera projects nothing out into the world, but receives it. The much despised "capture" does at least convey the essence of the process. I thought I had just come up with the word "snapture" (cute!) but I see it's already out there. Of course it is. Forget I ever mentioned it.


  2. I'm tired of all these pretenders. If you come for the King, best not miss. BOW DOWN MOTHERFUCKERS!

  3. Incidentally, talking of tango and aggressive street technique, I don't suppose you will ever have seen these before:


    You know when you've been Tango'd! Well, it was funny at the time. Apparently we Brits are famous for thinking we have a special sense of humour.