Like a lot of foreigners living in Tokyo, I make my living teaching English. Not a career I ever particularly expected to be in at this time of my life, but one I enjoy none the less. A big part of that enjoyment is that I like the way language works. I like the little rules of grammar and pronunciation. I like the way moving your tongue or using your voice gives you different sounds. I love phonemic script. But I’m also a big fan of the photographer’s collocation of choice: to make a photo.
This week at work I did a training session – teaching vocabulary – where I had to give out a task sheet containing the question
what is wrong with the following expressions:
a strong smoker // merry birthday // to make a photo
The answer being that the collocation is wrong (heavy, happy, take). No one in the three sessions I did had any trouble picking that up. The first time the sheet arrived in my inbox though it did make me a chuckle. Make a photo is an expression I’ve used plenty lately, particularly on this blog.
It used to bother me. It felt a little pretentious or forced. I’d always think to myself that there was a perfectly good, universally accepted verb for photos and trying to change it was a little silly. Moving on a year or two and I’m all about making photos. All of those expressions did create a little bit of conversation in our training sessions. This was the only one where I really had an opinion: Taking and making a photo are different.
Taking a photo is a different act to making a photo. I tend to think about this in a slightly different way than I usually hear or read it (usually that take is less collaborative and more aggressive). For me, the difference between making and taking is the process I wrote about in my last post. Everyone takes photos. Every photographer takes photos, every baby that’s worked out how mum or dad’s iPhone works takes photos, everyone. Taking a photo is what happens whenever you press the shutter. Making a photo is the extended process, it’s what you’ve done when you have a finished image you believe in. I tend to think that I can take 30+ photos against a certain background in the process of making the one that doesn’t get deleted from Lightroom. I think that 250 photos I take that go nowhere are part of making the next photo I’m pleased with.
That’s where I’ve landed on taking vs. making a photo anyway. Maybe I’ll change my mind again soon. Thought I’m sure if you read back through the last few posts on this blog I’m pretty sure my usage will have changed plenty . It’s nice to have different words for different stages of photography – even if the only person who understands the usage is myself. In everyday usage with the vast majority of students who come to class where I work, ‘make a photo’ is an error. Even when a native speaker says it, it sounds weird. I’d imagine that the most common usage of the expression ‘make a photo’ comes from people who are speaking English as a second language, followed very distantly by photographers. In the vast majority of cases it’s an expression used in error (the normal collocation take a photo being preferable). Sometimes it’s people playing with language to try and better express their feelings about the way they work. I started by saying I love the rules of language. I also love how easily they break.
Tokyo, March 2017.