“I was out shooting.”
If you didn’t have context, what would you think this sentence was about? Probably not photography. “To take a picture or series of pictures or television images of” is the twelfth out of thirteen definitions of “shoot” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Language like this is deeply ingrained into slang around the world despite having a violent, threatening connotation. Language like this has origins back to when photojournalists' were reporting from war-zones but now it feels archaic and insensitve.
I can’t count the number of mugs, t-shirts, notebooks that I’ve seen with cameras on the front proudly stating “I shoot people,” a dark play on words. It’s a little unsettling, isn’t it? I think during this particular moment in our current state of affairs, it’s high time to rethink how we, as photographers and photo editors, use language, specifically slang. Perhaps, as an American, it’s easier for me to have sensitivity towards gun violence but that doesn’t erase the problematic implications with our collective choice of words.
Yes, “photograph” has three syllables instead of one and doesn’t slip off the tongue as easily but improving ourselves takes work. It’s certainly not easier to say “photographing” instead of “shooting” but isn’t photographing what we’re doing anyway? Our photo community is also named "Your Shot" but let's start small with our everyday vernacular first.
While we're on a smaller scale, why don’t we try phasing out “taking” photos of a “subject” when referring to people who are in front of our lens? The people in focus are not a science experiment under our microscope; they are human beings and should always be treated as such (I’ll write about how to treat people in front of your camera another time). Language like “take” removes the craft involved with photography and implies that you are claiming complete ownership of the scene in your camera, including the ownership of the likeness of the people in your frame. Photography is a collaborative process and the images you make of others partly belong to them as they shared part of themselves with you, as a photographer. You are making photographs, not taking them.
Whether you are a hobbyist photographer or seasoned professional, it’s our language. It’s pertinent that we take ownership and remain accountable for how we speak about photography, no matter what context we’re speaking in. We must work to improve ourselves.