Monday, November 14, 2022

Words! Words! Words!

There's a guy who shall remain nameless who is more or less notorious on a segment of social media for posting cute little "prompts for discussion" along with occasional photos from 20th century photographers, and relentless requests to sign up for whatever his latest stupid thing is where he will do the same thing.

It's the prompts that get me. Two recent ones are these:

Do we take a photograph or make it?
If a shadow selfie a portrait?

These are, I hope it is obvious, dumb questions. But why? Well, at least one of them is exhausted, but that's not it.

They are dumb because they are not questions about photography or photographs at all, but rather questions about words. Nobody who takes photographs is at all mystified by the process they use to take pictures. They know how their photographs come to be, in some detail. The question of make vs. take is what word you use to summarize the well understood process, not a question about the nature of the process.

Ditto shadow-selfies. Everyone knows what they are. You photograph your own shadow. That's it. Is it a portrait? That is a question about the meaning of the word portrait not a question about the nature of the shadow-selfie.

You could argue, perhaps, that by asking about the word we are asking about how we think about these photographs and photographic processes, how do we make sense of these objects for ourselves?

Well, ok, maybe, but then why not ask that instead? Asking it in the form of a glib prompt yields a whole spectrum of answers, ranging from "yes" to "no," and that's about it.

My point here is that I suspect a lot of what we think of as "philosophical questions about photography" is in fact just glib blathering about words. The underlying acts and objects are, in context, well understood so perhaps it appears that all that's left to discuss if what language we use to describe it (see also the ongoing "shoot" discourse.)

I claim that there are actually things we don't understand about the underlying objects and processes and that we might could talk about those. People are, as a rule, not fans. Some take the position that these things are not well suited to word-based analysis, but mostly people are just shy of tackling these things.

I'm a guy who arguably uses more words than practically anybody, and arguably way too many, to talk about photography and photographs. I like to think that I'm actually talking and thinking about the underlying nature of the objects and processes, though, and not just stupid language chopping.


  1. You're describing precisely the same mode of communication as that on Linkedin

  2. I totally agree. Some people seem to think the Make vs Take question is so profound, implying, I guess, that Taking a picture involves actual theft of something. It's such a boring issue, it makes me want to steal a nap.

    1. 'Making' something from whole cloth, such as a drawing, painting, or papier mache altar to Satan (cough), is qualitatively different from 'taking' a photograph, especially in this digital era. That is something worth pondering as phone zombies roam the earth, flattening it into an instagram feed.

    2. Take vs. Make is basicallty a cope for photographers who want to sound like they're doing something.

  3. Excellent point, well made. OTOH philosophy itself is mainly "just glib blathering about words".

    I don't know the person in question, but if your examples are typical what would annoy me even more is that bushy-tailed pedagogic tone, typified by the sort of prick who ends any similarly banal comment with "thoughts?". Grrr...


    1. Pretty sure it's that guy who made the iphone app that -stops F ilthy words from reaching the eyes of innocents (the name also works as a technical attribute of photography). I could be wrong, there's more than one contender?

    2. There's a thing named a "Call To Action" or CTA which "content marketers" are very fond of. That's where you wrap up your "content" with an explicit request that the consumer do something.

      "Tell us what you think in the comments!"
      "Smash the subscribe button!"
      "Click the button to schedule a consultation!"

      once you learn the term and see a few examples you realize that they're everywhere. And, yes, our boy is rather fond of a good CTA. I think he is literally a content marketing professional.

  4. this pseudo intellectual boy should cut the crap, take photographs and make prints! (action not many "photogaphers" are involved with now-a-days!)


  5. I must be living under a rock. Until now, I had never heard the term "shadow selfie."