It occurs to me that the language used around photography does not always reflect the fact that it can be a gentle, creative art. We cheerfully bandy around words like ‘shooting’, ‘capturing’ and even ‘burning' which all sound distinctly aggressive! It was not unusual when I was working at a photography shop to be asked to ‘blow something up’. Even the word ‘snap’ is sharp and painful or broken!
I can’t think of any other art form which uses such negative language. Sculptors talk about revealing the form within the stone. Artists might mention palettes and brushes but not ‘pointing and shooting’. This aggressive language does not reflect my experience of the need to be receptive as a photographer: to receive the image as a gift; to appreciate what has been given.
A photograph isn’t ‘taken’. It does not need to be a predatory experience. I continue to receive images gratefully and practise my craft mindfully while pondering the gung ho aspects of much photographic language.
I do hope that you did not find this post too negative (I started in the days of film), and that you can “slide” into a positive place after reading this. “Almost funny, Mark!” editorial comment.
And for something completely different ...
Sometimes my friends and family introduce me to new words which I quickly embrace. Two of my recent favourites are ‘discombobulated’ and ‘coddiwomple’. There is a gloriously light-hearted sound to each word which expresses just how I feel some days!
Discombobulated www.vocabulary.com defines discombobulated as follows:
‘If something has put you in a state where you don't know up from down and you can't spell your own name, you may be discombobulated.’
In other words, confused, and yes, there are times when I feel confused and overloaded but, rather than becoming stressed, I can bring a smile to my face and others by regarding myself as discombobulated. Fantastic word.
Coddiwomple is perhaps less well-known and is defined as ‘to travel in a purposeful manner to a vague destination’. Now, if I was planning for my retirement, coddiwompling would not be a good idea. Making financial decisions requires a grown-up attention to detail, with defined goals and a definite destination. However, for those following artistic pursuits, a good coddiwomple comes highly recommended. Seurat probably started being ‘dotty’ in a highly purposeful manner but I doubt he envisaged the end product when he started playfully exploring. Some art exhibitions are not understood cognitively but responded to instinctively. Creativity is at home with playfulness and exploration, not linear limitations.
One of my friends liked coddiwomple so much she looked up the definition only to come across the wonderful phrase ‘don’t get catawumpus in your coddiwomple’. Catawumpus (it turns out) means going askew or awry or even diagonally. In other words ‘don’t go diagonally when you are travelling in a purposeful manner to a vague destination’. Confused? I hope so!
Seriously though, I also want to use this approach in my response to photographs and painting. Guernica by Picasso may not make sense immediately to me, but I can respect the liberation of the artist who is not afraid to use perspective in new ways. It saddens me to meet those who won’t go near art because of excessive criticism by an art teacher or their parents many years ago, meaning they are always looking to produce a ‘correct’ piece of work, whatever that is.
So … May you be free in your creative pursuits not to know the outcome of the path you set out upon. May you be released from all struggle and tension to a life of coddiwompling, whether straightforwardly or catawumpus, and never become discombobulated when life throws you a curve ball.
I want to thank the two Mrs JBs in my life for their contributions to this post. We found it enjoyable and amusing!