Photography is a wide-ranging
field that engenders passion in its practitioners, and like all great
forms of expression creates opinions formed through experience and reflection.
In its early days one of the great debates was: Is Photography Art? This
was the subject of many essays and heated discussions among players and
spectators. Today, issues such as film vs. digital, format choices, the
validity of computer generated images, photography as exploitation or
revealer, and even the merits of ink jet vs. silver prints cause similar
debate. We are opening this department up to readers, manufacturers, and
retailers--in short, everyone who lives and breathes photography
and who has an opinion about anything affecting imaging today.
Here's how to get involved: write us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
or send us a letter with a proposed topic and a synopsis of your idea.
Once approved, we'll ask you to send us about 500-1000 words on
the subject chosen. The idea here is not to push any product or wave any
flag, but to create discussion about photo and imaging topics of the day.
We reserve the right to edit whatever you send in, although we will never
edit intention or opinion but only for length and, hopefully, for clarity.
We reserve the right to publish your work on our web site as well, so
you can join the archives and be a resource for opinion for years to come.
So, get thinking and writing and share your Point of View.
T o every thing, as the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven. This applies at least as much
to taking pictures as to casting away stones, or gathering stones together.
So when is the time not to shoot?
There are three answers. When you don't want to; when you can't;
and when you shouldn't.
"Hold on!" you say. "I never shoot when I don't
Well, maybe you're right. But ask yourself if any of this sounds
familiar. You haven't taken any pictures for a while, and you have
no subjects in mind, but you have a vague feeling that you ought to take
some more pictures, whether to justify all the expensive kit you own,
or to justify calling yourself a photographer, or simply as a means of
procrastinating to avoid doing something else.
Or you are somewhere that you feel that you just ought to take pictures,
even though you don't really feel inclined: somewhere exotic, maybe,
or somewhere that other people are clearly enjoying themselves, even if
you are not.
In either case, it's possible that taking pictures will help you
to break out of your blues, and it's always worth trying. On the
other hand, if you do try, and it doesn't work, stop. Why persist,
after all? This is aversion training. You are taking something that you
normally like to do, and you are forcing yourself to do it when you don't
want to. This does not make a lot of sense.
Relax And Look
What about when you can't shoot? Again, the very concept doesn't
necessarily make immediate sense. If you are determined enough, you can
almost always get a picture, even of subjects you are not supposed to
shoot: think of all the unauthorized shots you see in the supermarket
tabloids of celebrities' weddings, or even of executions. That the
two go together is an unsavory comment on the 21st century.
That's not what I mean, though. I'm talking about times when
it's better to relax and enjoy the real world around you, rather
than trying to capture it on film. By all means shoot the occasional happy-snap,
like all the other people with their point-and-shoot cameras, but don't
try to get a Great Picture out of it, unless you really want to.
Again, there's no harm in starting out by trying to take Great Pictures,
but if it doesn't work, think hard about what you are gaining and
what you are losing. If you are working so hard at getting a good picture
that you are missing out on having a good time, go for the good time--especially
if you know in your heart that you aren't going to get a good picture
anyway. Why miss out on both? Enjoy the company, the food, the fireworks
display, the soft breeze off the ocean, the smell of the barbecue wafting
across from the tavern, the stars in the velvety sky. There's more
there than anyone could photograph, so don't try. Grok the fullness.
Stop And Think
And when shouldn't you shoot? This is the toughest of all. After
all, you shouldn't, as a decent human being, take pictures that
make fun of people. But if (for example) you are a staunch Democrat and
the opportunity presents itself to show President Bush making a fool of
himself--something which is, of course, hardly imaginable--you
probably wouldn't be human if you didn't take it. Likewise,
it is unpleasant to capitalize on suffering. But if by photographing that
suffering, you can move public opinion in a direction that will alleviate
the suffering, it is probably your duty to take the picture.
Be honest, though. You can make these judgments for yourself. You know
when you are doing something right or wrong. And you know where the gray
areas are: where you probably shouldn't do it, but you do anyway,
or where good and bad are finely balanced but you make some kind of a
choice because you have to.
What I am getting at is that most people don't have to take pictures.
Professionals are different, at least sometimes: they may have to come
back with a picture, no matter how little they feel like shooting or how
distasteful they find the subject, though equally, it might be a better
world if more of them refused, more often. But as an amateur, I know full
well that if I push myself, I'll take bad pictures more often than
not, while if I take time off from shooting--whether it's an
hour, a day, a week or a month--there will come a time when I just
can't wait to start shooting again. And that's when I'll
do some of my best work.