Gun Control and the Photographic Culture

Call for a moratorium on shooting

Nykahn Interrogator

Image by Nathan Marciniak

Some photographers take reality… and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.
-Ansel Adams

As the debate carries on about gun control and the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, one doesn’t have to take sides to acknowledge the American culture is wild about firearms. That armed enthusiasm has permeated the culture of photography as well, and I think it is time to consider what that costs us creatively.

I wish we could remove “shoot” from the photographic vernacular. The word is inaccurate and indicative of an aggressive or predatory approach, one that limits the opportunity for creative vision and powerful imagery.

Perhaps the most obvious example of our tactical frame of mind is in wildlife photography. Over the last 100 years our safari gear has largely transitioned from guns to cameras – pat on the back for us. Yet if you go to the B&H website and search for “holster”, you’ll find 255 products in the photography section alone. We may not be using bullets anymore, but the mindset of shooting persists.

When I go out to photograph wildlife with the big boys and the big glass and the 10 frames-per-second what I see is a lot of trophy hunting – jockeying for position to get the frame that will impress everyone when it’s hung on the wall. (I’m not criticizing hunting; just as there are different kinds of hunters, there are different kinds of photographers.)

Photographers are violent people; first they frame you, then they shoot you, then they hang you on the wall.

A camera is simply a small black box with a hole in it. It doesn’t shoot anything, and that hasn’t changed in the 170+ years of photography. A camera receives the light of the world with great delicacy. Sorry to disappoint some of you, but your guns aren’t loaded. They aren’t even guns. Perhaps that was easier to remember when photographers were creating just a few exposures a day in simple wooden boxes.

Kwanon

The Canon Company was first known as Kwanon, after the Buddhist personification of compassion.

My intention is to disarm our attitude, while reinforcing our backbone. It takes real brass to go out there and open yourself up to be affected by the world. James Nachtwey is perhaps the most celebrated photojournalist of our time, having won the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal “requiring exceptional courage” five times. He has spent decades holding a camera while surrounded by men with guns. In the Oscar-nominated documentary War Photographer, he said

I also had to learn in taking pictures how to develop a personal vision; how to express my own feelings about it, and in order to do that, I had to get in touch with my own feelings and…through photography, through the discipline of the frame, I learned about the world, it became the way I discovered the world, and it also became the way in which I discovered myself.

He mentions emotional connection repeatedly; it’s the drumbeat of his monologue. In my opinion the most compelling images are created by a photographer who has opened his or her mind and heart enough to their subject to have been affected by it, to have formed an emotional awareness of their relationship to the subject. Only then can the mastery of craft and fine equipment we are obsessed with be put to good use; technique is worthless with a compelling vision.

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.
-Ansel Adams

Brave souls use the camera as a means to connect with the world, not hide from it. Just as a piece of film is forever altered by the light of a subject, so too is the Receptive Photographer. Stop fussing with the camera for a minute, drop the shutter inside yourself, let the force and light of life change you, and then create your images.

I also believe it is our duty as photographers to spread our work far and wide, creating opportunities for others to feel what we felt, to see the world for a split-second through our visionary eyes, and have their own revelation, however small. (It is the photographer’s intent to communicate, not simply taking photographs, that the 1st Amendment protects). The ripple effect of a photographer who displays work born of deep passion for their subject is immeasurable.

Do you want to rock this world with your images? Then let yourself be rocked by the world.

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Here’s a humorous example of just how aligned photography equipment is with weaponry;

Battle At F-Stop Ridge; a YouTube video by The Camera Store having fun with the ‘shooter’ concept (2.5 million hits).

 

Comments

  1. Avatar of JakJak

    I just came across another Ansel Adams quote… “The ‘machine-gun’ approach to photography – by which many negatives are made with the hope that one will be good – is fatal to serious results.”