the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT I AM EVER REINCARNATED, perhaps I would live my best (next) life as a cow. At least that’s my gut feeling. No, I mean, literally my gut, since, like my bovine brothers and sisters, I am a ruminant. I regurgitate and re-chew my existential cud endlessly, obsessively masticating my life to extract every bit of anxiety from my every choice. I overthink my options the way Elsie and Elmer worry a wad of pasture grass.

And that is why it is so amazing that I should be a photographer at all.

Making pictures is one of the only things I do almost purely by instinct. Examine any other enterprise in which I’ve been involved, from cooking to business matters to philosophy, and you’ll observe a consistent pattern of slow, deliberate development, with few bursts of pure fancy or whim. Photography is something else. To be sure, capturing a image does take at least a modicum of advance strategy; however, in the final snap of the shutter, there is a bit of a leap of faith, a commitment that moves you past the knowledge that This Might Not Work Out. And oddly, for an over-a-chewer like myself, the ability to finally let go and click is not terrifying, but thrilling, a moment of pure abandon that, for me, is truly exotic, almost drug-like. It allows me to do things that cannot be precisely nailed down before they are tried, as in the case of this image, which is clearly not the result of lengthy over-thinking.


That’s why my “favorite” picture must always be the one I’m just about to make. I get such a dopamine hit off being able to release my anxieties in the creative process that I hunger desperately for the next high. And the next one. And the next one.  In so many other aspects of our lives, we can more easily talk ourselves out of doing something than into doing it. We learn to approach almost any choice as if reading a risk-benefit assessment. That’s why there are never nearly enough astronauts or mountain climbers or novelists among us; the risk of failure….worse, of being judged a failure by others, is too daunting. But in the creative sphere, we seem to give ourselves a hall pass; this one time, you can be bold. This one moment, you can just not care whether it’s perfect.

This why I hate for the camera to be elevated to the status of a magically autonomous instrument, or a perfect machine. Photography is so much more than the technical execution of a recording. It is not a mechanical seismograph but an emotional one, and so making pictures has to be done by chewing less and swallowing more. It simply must be done with the emotions in the driver’s seat.


2 responses

  1. Lake Effect

    Well put Michael, helped me understand at least part of what I love about photography:)

    February 12, 2023 at 12:58 PM

    • Thank you once again. I always enjoy hearing when we somehow all ring a common bell of experience.

      February 12, 2023 at 4:24 PM

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