The art of photography is the art of relationship. The question is: What relationship does the photo-grapher want—with his subject and with his later viewers? You can have whatever relationship you want with the subject, and the subject is also having a relationship with you, whether the subject is a person, or thing, whatever it may be. There is always a relationship.
I take very many pictures, and I love to do so because I love the relating. Some photographers spend hours composing in the viewfinder—and then take just one picture. But I love the frequent, often very frequent, clicking of the shutter. It seals our relationship. And I take to relate. The more takes, the deeper our relationship, the closer we become. I love every subject, and I love to feel loved by them. The more takes, the more love. I suppose it’s like kissing. You can behold your lover and kiss once or twice. Or you can kiss again and again. Each one more loving.
But what about the word “take”? It comes from the Latin rapio, I seize (hence rape). It implies I have seized, taken away, something vital from the subject. I have left it impoverished. We don’t say that a painter is taking a scene. Why say it of a photographer? I suppose because his act is so brief, so momentary. Just seizing with a click of the shutter—rapacious.
And what about the “I”—I take? I see the photographic process as mutual: the subject and I are doing it—not just me. It’s our action. This does not mean the other party necessarily knows, he may be unconscious of the camera. But nonetheless his presence is essential: without him—no photograph. I could—theoretically—say instead of taking, that I kiss the subject. But that would be denying his very active, if unknowing, role. So I’d prefer to say we kiss. But the kiss is obviously inappropriate, except in poetry. So what’s the best word? Not take, but what? And not I—but we, together. Relating is too vague and too psycho-babblish.
Let’s start by saying that I don’t take, but that we give. I’m reminded of my concern with saying that I beat the drum—implying violence. I advocated instead the word actuate: I actuate the music inherent in the drum. There is a similarity here, in that I feel, always, that the subject is wanting me to photograph it. It is yearning to relate, to, as it were, burst into singing with me—just like the drum. It needs me, my actuation. As I need it to actuate the love within me.
It’s our mutual love-making every time—and, usually, many times. It’s our act of love. Initiated by me? No. The drum calls to me, as do the photographic subjects. Silently they start our interaction. It is their emanation that attracts me, causing me to frame and focus. I respond to them. It’s like kissing a woman who is silently, apparently unknowingly, asking to be kissed. You think you are the active one, but really you are just responding. “I suddenly kissed her.” Yes—but she was getting you to. You think you were forward, macho—but you didn’t know, will never be told, that she got you to kiss her.
You see, I keep coming back to kissing. Not because of any sexual connotation, but because it can be—should be—an expression of love. And it is mutual, loving, rather than selfishly taking. But, of course, we can’t use these words for photographing. I must try again.
Consider this. The drum, the violin, the photographic subject, are all yin—passively wanting, yearning, silently emanating. And you respond with an all-yang action—playing the instrument, clicking the shutter. The yin needs you, as you need it. And afterwards every picture is a perfect yin-yang symbol of balance, harmony and peace: love. The more clicks, the more love between us.
I keep coming back to love. Yes, I really do believe that every picture can be an instance of the love-making (some much more obviously than others), but I can’t call photography love-making. Writing a poem can be, and should be, too. (So should every activity.) But we call it writing, not love-making. Blake makes love to me (not sex, of course, but love), because whenever I read him, or even think of him, I feel loved.
When I draw, there is, always, a very special intimate relationship between the yin paper and the yang me. It is as if we were love-making, and I hope the finished work conveys this, but it is right that, in part because of its sexual connotation, we call it drawing, not love-making. Few people seem aware of the intense relationship between paper and artist, but it is always there. The more the artist is Aware of it, the more love will he—they—give to the world through their mutual activity.
Yes, activity is a valid word for the paper’s role, for yin in its own way is as active as yang. Just more subtle, much more subtle. Like the quiet, seemingly unassuming woman yearning—that’s active—to be kissed. Back to kissing—but it won’t do.
I’m looking at the trees around me. We are relating, strongly, intensely. Their yin and my yang (or so it seems to me—perhaps they see it reversed). We are co-relating every moment. We are as one. Now, if I get out my camera and photograph them, how can I demean our feeling of unity by declaring that I’m taking their picture? I’m perpetuating (or to use Garry Winogrand’s term—immortalizing) that moment of us, so that others can later know it, too.
Perpetuating what? Our relationship, our co-relationship, our sense—yes, trees sense, of course—of oneness, of unity. And the unity is there, even with an unknowing subject like the back of a man on the street. For we are all One—it’s just that at that moment he is not consciously Aware of it.
Taking a photograph is, it seems to me, a momentary revelation of an instance of the universal unity. The subject and I are one. Through its yin and my yang we are unified. So, taking a picture is really an act of unification, or, rather, of immortalizing this particular instance of Oneness.
Now, I don’t expect the phrase “act of unification” to replace “taking a picture.” But I hope that going through this search will help you and me to make pictures which more obviously reveal the Universal Truth. At least, as a first step, let’s talk of making a picture. Not taking, but making. The subject—and I.
May the photographer proclaim: I am making this picture hoping you will come a little closer to the Universal Truth:
All One, All Spirit,
for there is Only Spirit.