“When this is in your hands, you are the center of the universe. Not that anything else exists, it certainly does. You are important, this thing empowers you to do whatever the hell you want.” – Mel DiGiacomo, photojournalist
“On the barrel, pretty white letters spelled out PARTY STARTER.” – Ilona Andrews, Gunmetal Magic
On the tediously long flight from Washington to Johannesburg, I was seated among a small group of middle-aged men decked out in the latest camouflaged fashions. They were, as they say, all in. The affected clothing items and accruements included, but were not limited to, jackets, ball caps, handbags, boots, eyeglass and phone cases, one eye patch, and a tee shirt emblazoned with block letters:
GUN CONTROL IS BEING ABLE TO HIT YOUR TARGET
A hunting party, no doubt.
At this realization, I was for the briefest of moments shocked that these grown men were traveling a great distance to kill the same creatures I was planning to photograph. I was also somewhat shocked at my own naïveté since African hunting safaris have a much longer history and steeper tradition than wildlife photography after all. Grainy black and white photographs of the be speckled Teddy Roosevelt, rifle in hand grinning over the corpse of some poor Cape buffalo, come immediately to mind.
While casting no judgments on hunting in general – for sustenance (if and when necessary) and as a management tool with oversight by the appropriate authorities (for the benefit of wildlife or a specific species) – I must confess that killing for sport or trophy alone sickens me, especially African megafauna which has been in precipitous decline in recent years.
Either way, for better or worse, I have zero interest in participating myself. I know many wildlife photographers who are former hunters and they’ve all intimated that the primal “thrill of the kill” is the same, only a good wildlife image is much more challenging. The human predatory instinct is propitiated but without the blood, guts, and guilt. Photography is also more of what I would call a sporting proposition, in that both participants are able to safely walk away from the encounter.
Still, in many ways, photography and firearms are inextricably married, with language the most common bond. For instance, a camera is still said to be fired and so is a flash gun. A collection of lenses is often referred to as an arsenal and all lenses of course have a barrel. Super telephotos are big guns while small fully automatic, pocket-sized cameras are point-and-shoot. So without even having to mention headshot you should already be getting my drift here.
I feel the primary complication lies with the ambiguity of the words shoot and shot. A portrait photographer’s Twitter bio might include “I shoot people,” a joke that ceased being funny a long time ago, if for no other reason it’s breathtakingly unoriginal and old. If they mention that they can legally cut people’s heads off, well, then that makes it fractionally funnier.
Shot is a cute, amputated form of the word snapshot, borrowed yet again from weaponry and born in the early 19th century meaning, “a quick shot with a gun, without aim, at a fast-moving target.” Some photographers, I fear, might feel this definition hits a bit too close to home.
I use the words shoot or shot from time to time, but I try to do so as infrequently as possible. It’s not because of the words’ possibly violent tones but instead I find them to be rather inelegant and crude. As a substitute for shot, I prefer image or photo. Image is snazzy and modern, fully appropriate for the age of digital cameras and smartphones – digital imagery. Stretching photo all the way out into photograph sounds a bit too old fashioned and implies, at least to me, a tangible print. The same goes for picture. The slang pic should always be avoided if you are older than 25 or if used outside the context of an online chat. Under no circumstances should it ever be verbalized. Capture, used as either a noun or verb is gaining in popularity but has never fully caught on with me. Epic capture or I captured the sunset tonight is either too disconnected from photography or far too hip for its own good.
I think it’s time we all joined together to find some new terminology.
On the same recent flight mentioned earlier, I was told of a U.S State Department bulletin warning travelers to Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport of thieves and muggers posing as taxi operators, an unsettling possibility.
As I carefully deliberated over my transportation options upon arrival, a friendly young driver approached and offered a ride to my hotel at a reasonable price. I searched for any clues in his appearance – a ridiculous and futile exercise – then followed him out to his car, which had an illuminated “taxi” sign perched on its rooftop – a good sign indeed.
When he asked about the purpose of my visit, I cryptically replied, “Shooting animals,” just as he reached for my luggage and opened the trunk.
“Ah yes, hunting?”
“You could say that.”
Before the trunk was closed, I reached for my oversized camera pack and said casually, “I’d prefer to keep the guns up front with me.”
May, 2014 – Johannesburg, South Africa
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