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Classic Themes in Photography >

36 - Taking v. Making Photographs

First, to set the stage, some posit that humankind has gradually withdrawn from nature (as if we're not part of nature).



Indoor plumbing.

Hip, hip, hooray!

Yet, there is regret.

There is a loss of being more out of nature, along with the gain, of err, indoor plumbing.

And, not so much the art that they do, but artists are thought to be more in contact with nature.

And the definition of nature can be expanded to include what's inside ourselves, as well as the birds in the trees.

Photographers go into nature to take photographs.

Even still lifes, were most often nature taken indoors and put on a table near a window.

They're not making photographs.

They're in the "plein air."

Besides landscape photographers, taking photographs is epitomized by the work of documentary and street photographers, such as Bruce Davidson, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand, and Helen Levitt.

They may search for a long time for everything to fall into place within the frame of their cameras, and then, snap.

Snapshot was originally a hunting term, after all.

They try not to add anything to the scene by their presence, whether directly or indirectly.

An aside . . .

We're disappointed when a photograph that has purported to be found, was actually made.

Consternation ensued when it was discovered that Robert Doisneu's signature image, The Kiss, of a couple on a Parisian street, was staged.1

Likewise, Ruth Orkin photographed a young woman walking down a Roman street, while being ogled by numerous, demonstrative, men.

The woman was a friend, and the men were enlisted in their task by Orkin.

The above examples were misrepresentations.

There's also cheating that's not really cheating.

Paul Strand used a camera with two lenses—the working lens was unobtrusive—and the prominent lens was a fake.

That was the problem: to make candid photographs long before there were any candid cameras.

For the solution, I worked with the Ensign camera, and put a false lens on the side of the camera, and screwed it onto the side of the camera's very shiny brass barrel, and then shot with the brass barrel at right angles to the person I was going to photograph; but the other lens, the real lens, came out under my arm because it was a long extension.2

Of course, as Strand said, there were no unobtrusive cameras at the time.

A favorite photographer is Helen Levitt.

She photographed children and others on the streets of Harlem.

I was disappointed when I found that she used a device that allowed her to be facing one direction, while photography in another direction.

Back to our story . . .

Surrealism took photography into the unconscious, away from outside nature.

Modernism removed parts of nature from nature.

The context of a part of nature was removed.

For example, Richard Avedon photographed people with a white paper background, with the similar lighting.

Irving Penn photographed people around the world. However, he took them out of their environments and placed them in a tent.

In some quarters, the taking of photographs is thought/felt to be somehow better than the making of photographs.

What do you think?

Similarly to the discussion in The Above Two Pathways section, taking and making overlap.

The street photographer deciding whether to use a 24mm wide-angle lens, or a 105mm telephoto lens, is making the photograph that he's about to take.

Ansel Adams is often thought to be a taker of photographs.

However, when he discovered how to make his photographs of the Sierras have gesture (see the next section), it wasn't anything metaphysical.

Adams simply discovered how a red filter darkens skies and shadows, rendering the clouds and mountains more dramatically.

Photographers often assume that early photographing was composed of the takers of photographs, rather than makers.

However, because film was insensitive to light, landscape photographers had to use shields inside their cameras, or make prints using two negative (one for the sky, and one for the landscape).

Allegorical photographs were also popular, such as those by Oscar Gustave Rejlander.

In 1857, he exhibited The Two Ways of Life, which as made from combining thirty negatives.

James Nasmyth and James Carpenter wanted to photograph the moon.

This was not possible in the 1870s, because the wet collodion emulsion would dry out during the long exposures required.

Yet, they published The Moon: Considered as a Planet, A World, and a Satellite in 1874.

They made plaster models of the moon, and simulated the light from the sun.

1 The photograph was made on the Rue de Rivoli outside of the main entrance of BHV, a department store.

2 Tompkins, C. (1976). Paul Strand: Sixty years of photographs. Millerton, NY: Aperture.