I was recently drawn to a social media thread, including image, about Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished firearms at Black Lives Matters (BLM) protesters, marching past their home in June 2020. The couple are now involved in multiple legal cases stemming from the incident but what caught my eye was their weapon safety, or rather the lack of it, which led me down the garden path thinking about not only parallels with photography but also the language of photography.

The image in question of the McCloskeys shows Mark practicing gun safety with his finger off the trigger of his rifle, known as trigger discipline, to prevent a negligent discharge; Patricia on the other hand noticeably has her finger on the trigger of her pistol. Despite his trigger discipline Mark has his rifle firmly tucked into his side rather than into his shoulder, which contravenes weapon safety. Discharging rounds, Rambo style, from a firearm in such a position is inaccurate and the firer is likely to be affected by recoil, resulting in increased inaccuracy. As such it is dangerous as rounds may not be fired in the intended direction with the further consideration of potential collateral damage. In short the lack of weapon safety the couple are showing is unprofessional, lazy, inaccurate and dangerous.

So how does this relate to photography? Starting with language, it is common to use the word ‘shoot’ as both a verb and a noun in photography. ‘I am shooting’ is more casual and quicker to say than the more formal ‘I am taking photographs’ while ‘photo shoot’ is more common than ‘photo session’. However there are regular calls from some to move away from the word ‘shoot’ due to an association with firearms. This call seems to come from photographers who live in countries and societies where firearms are legal and there is a real risk of injury and harm from either the mishandling of them or their use in crime. The origin of the word ‘shoot’ comes from ‘sceotan’, meaning ‘to shoot, throw a missile’ from Old English which was used from mid 5th century to the late 11th century and brought to Great Britain by Anglo- Saxon settlers. The word thus precedes the invention of firearms which can be traced back to 1610 and the invention of the first flintlock muzzleloading rifle by Marin le Bourgeois for King Louis XIII of France. Indeed when you consider that photography works by gathering light rather than the projection of a missle, the word ‘shoot’ no longer seems appropriate to the act of photography altogether. I do however make a connection to the terms ‘master/ slave’, used in regards to flash and triggers, to slavery. In the UK, at a time when BLM is questioning the country’s historical connection to the slave trade and has seen statues removed, is the term ‘master/ slave’ appropriate, especially when the terms have ready alternatives such as primary/ secondary, key/ fill and so on? Conversely I struggle to find a reasonable synonym for ‘shoot’. 

As a former language student I am aware of the connection between language and culture and how they both evolve and influence each other. My former Chinese professor called the process ‘slang-ification’ whereby over time slang words replaced their formal counterparts. Some terms enter a language and stay while others disappear as quickly as they arrived. Digital has introduced a slew of expressions to the industry which is overseeing the slow death of terms associated with practices either barely or no longer carried out; ‘smudge’ or ‘smudger’ anyone (the former being slang for a photograph in the press and the later the related word for photographer)? With this in mind is it a surprise photography, which as we know it today started in 1830, uses older terms borrowed from other trades and industries which predate it?

Despite my lack of language association between firearms, and even shooting a bow and arrow, and photography, I do accept there are certain similarities between the two and how they are carried out. Shooting a weapon generally requires a user’s eye lining up with a set of sights with a target and, in the case of a firearm, a deliberate squeeze of the trigger. Photography equally has a line of sight from the user to a desired composition to the pressing of the shutter; indeed it has been remarked by more than one person that my photography stance and pose looks like I’m handling a firearm, not a camera. And although the origins of the word ‘shoot’ involve the projection of a missile, as opposed to the capturing of light, it has been argued that through the visual capture of a situation and subsequent display of it, photography has connections to hunting. There is also a wider, negative, similarity that may be discerned between the two. Such as it is dangerous to shoot a rifle from the hip I believe more thought should be given by anyone who takes a photograph and especially with a camera- phone. The majority of photography today is digital and data is the new oil. Camera taken images contain large amounts of data including battery life, tower pings, service providers etc, which is offered for free when uploaded to the internet and exploited and weaponised by bad actors and tech giants for their own commercial benefits. If you think this is overdramatic, just consider where we are today with disinformation and fake news.

What are your thoughts on the language of photography? Feel free to share our content to social media if you liked it or leave a comment.

 


andybarnham

I am a portrait photographer based in London, UK. Born in Hong Kong to a Chinese mum and British dad, I had an international upbringing while I educated in the UK. I started photography as a hobby while serving as an officer in the British Army.

After my service I turned this passion into a career and became immersed in London's sartorial scene. I am now focusing my camera on portraiture and using this eye for detail which was refined over ten years. As a former Royal Artillery officer it is only fitting I shoot with a Canon camera.

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