How We Use Labels

Did i make it, or take it?

A person fishing at super low tide along the Pacific coast

    Martin Banks
December 15th, 2020

Over the past year or two, there has been a lot of examination of how we use our language. The notion of gender pronouns is a good example. The default is to use she/her/hers or he/him/his when referring to someone we assume identifies as a particular gender. In researching for this article, I discovered that gender pronouns are a subset of personal pronouns. It makes sense, sort of, once I thought about it. It gets confusing and complicated when put into practice. A friend of my son prefers to be referred to as they/them/theirs. We try to respect that when we are talking about them (him) or addressing them (him) directly. You can see how quickly it can become confusing and complicated in that last sentence. Nonetheless, they (he) appreciates our effort, even if it sometimes falls short.

Some of you may have noticed that when I am writing about photography, I refer to a photograph I created by saying something like, "This photograph I made..." I could have said, "This photograph I took..." or "This photo I captured..." Think about the words we use; "took a selfie," "captured a moment," "got the shot," "going to shoot some photos" are the words we use to describe the action of photography. Now that you are looking at them, don't they seem possessive or aggressive? Took, captured, shot, shooting are all words that convey possession or aggressive action regarding the subject.

Come to think of it, the idea of 'taking" a photo is really odd. Actually, I make a photo of someone or something. There is nothing to "take" when making a photo. It might even be said that photographers "give" meaning or context to a scene or person they have recorded on film or digitally. So, we do not take.

The phrase "you captured that scene" is common. And again, nothing was captured, except maybe the light reflecting off the scene. Even that isn't capturing light, it is recording the light.

The idea of shot or shooting is, well, violent. I doubt that people who shoot guns are going to get all wishy-washy about the term and want to change it to something like "engaging a firing pin to cause an explosion that forces a projectile forward toward a target." People who make photographs might be better off saying something like "record the scene" or "document the event." That sounds so much better than "shot the scene" or "shooting the event."

I know this is about semantics; the subtle meaning of words really do matter. It's not just about my feelings as a photographer and not wanting to be known as a taker, a capturer, or a shooter. I want to be known as a maker, creator, or documenter. Photography came into its own as art decades ago. A painter creates a scene on a canvas using color, shade, tint, perspective, and other elements. They paint a picture. A photographer records a scene by paying attention to the reflected light, color, composition, and other details. Photographers record a moment.

Our language is changing and evolving. It is tempting to ignore how words are being used and how that use can be dismissive or insensitive. The cultural conditioning we all grow up with normalizes the terms, words, and phrases we use, so we don't even give them a second thought. We don't know we are doing it until we become aware. Then it is a matter of doing our best to change our habits. No one will judge you for that.

Thank you for reading