Blog Archive

Taking vs Making

Just the other day I was out with my eight-year-old son running errands when I came across this scene. We had been on a mission to pick up some household items as we approached this big-box store from the secondary entrance near it's rear loading dock. Without even thinking, I pulled a quick U-turn - prompting my son to say "Whoa, Dad... Take it EASY" -  positioning my car at the optimal angle for taking this picture. As I grabbed my Fuji X-Pro2 from the passenger seat, rolled down the window, and began framing this shot, my son asked me from the backseat "What are you taking a picture of, Dad?" He was perplexed as he craned is neck to try and see out the window what I was looking at. The only thing notable from our vantage point was a large door with a red sign. I thought carefully about how to respond, not because I wanted to choose my words, but because it dawned on me that I really didn't know how to answer his seemingly simple question. Eventually, I told  him "There's a subtle, yet very important difference between taking pictures and making photographs."

I read a great book once, entitled "The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes." The book was authored by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. Throughout the text, the reader learns how to connect in new ways with his/her surroundings... Essentially, how to see differently. From the earliest days of my photographic exploration, I enjoyed the challenge of finding and making art from the things we look at everyday. But over time, the ability to see a photograph before I capture it has become second nature. Spotting such a scene, understanding how to frame in a way that it tells - or better, so it provokes - a story, is how it becomes art. I told my son that, sometimes, we can create an image from something simple, like a door near a loading dock. If we position things right, and we look at how the one "thing" in the scene (the door, in this case) contrasts against other things around it, the finished photograph can inspire thought by those who later observe it.

When I finished processing this picture, I showed it to my son. I pointed out the details that I saw in my mind's eye before committing to the image: the leading lines; the worn look to the door; the gritty look of the surrounding bricks; the faded pink bricks that once were bright red; and the vertical "seam" on the right-hand side that balances the placement of the door on the left. I looked at him, after this explanation, to see if any of it was registering; it's hard to assess the understanding of abstract ideas by looking at an eight-year-old's face. Before I could ask him what he thought, he looked at me and said "Cool. Well, I'll always remember the time when you stopped the car to take a picture of a door." And I couldn't have been happier.