Accepting Gifts

August 19, 2021  •  8 Comments

Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Crow
Joshua Tree National Park, California

Rather than “taking” photos or “shooting” them or even “making” photos, we will practice “receiving” images as gift. The traditional words for photography are possessive and aggressive. Yet the actual mechanism of photography is that light is reflected off of a subject and received by the camera through the lens opening. We can create conditions for a “good” photo, but ultimately we must stand in a posture of receiving and see what actually shows up in the image.**  -Christine Valters Paintner

The above quote reflects an attitude change in our approach to finding and making images. At one time everyone went out 'shooting' pictures or 'taking' photos. Then, some began 'making' images; less aggressive and less of a possessive approach, more of an artistic, creative leaning. But, I think Ms. Paintner has a point and it's one I have unknowingly adopted and haven't had the word for: to "Receive" an image as though a gift. 

For a long time I've considered myself an opportunistic photographer. I no longer sit in one place, coffee in hand, waiting for the 'right' light to turn a bland scene into something magnificent. I wander about, knowing that something will pop up. Now, that's not to say I haven't arrived before dawn to a place like Joshua Tree, knowing the morning light will burnish the boulders to a warm golden hue, sure I do that.  But, for the most part I arrive, walk about, find a scene that attracts me, make my image and move on.  I take (receive?) whatever opportunities are a gift, using Ms. Painters term. 

I have many keepers that I've just stumbled upon, many more than were planned using all the tools available to photographers nowadays. The one above for example, just a morning walk in a field of Joshua Trees looking for 'something.'  And, not to get too metaphysical, the universe sends a crow to land atop a tree and strike a pose. I, ever vigilant for such happenings, compose and create.  Okay, yeah, way too metaphysical, but heck, it happened! 

Now you could argue that I was in the right place at the right time and that's all there is to it. Yes, you could argue that, I won't stand in your way. But, I think you'd be missing the point. That being, it's a change of perspective she's promoting, and how that may change your approach to your art in a positive way. We all enjoy gifts, right? Acknowledge them, accept them and be grateful. 


**From Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, Center for Action and Contemplation



lynn wohlers/bluebrightly(non-registered)
You put together a beautiful post, Joe. Both that great image and your writing ring true. Christine Paintner is new to me, but the idea of questioning the use of "shooting" photographs is one that I've thought about for a long time. I try never to say that I (or anyone else) shoot or take a photo. I tend to use the word "make" and I appreciate her suggestion to think of it as receiving.
I like the description of your process of "wandering about, knowing something will pop up." I get that! This idea of understanding that we may be better off with an attitude of accepting the gifts we are given rather than greedily pursuing objectives seems to keep coming up, or maybe I'm particularly receptive to it because I spent five years in a zen community. Whatever the reason, I really like the way you approach the subject, which is certainly not too mystical for this reader. ;-)
Linda Grashoff(non-registered)
Thank you, Joe, for sharing and being, yourself, another like-minded soul. Here is something I wrote the other day on Lynn Wohler's blog ( I don't think she would mind my saying it again here.

"I have a favorite poem, called “The Heron,” by Conrad Hilberry:

The great

blue heron lives

by stepping

slowly and standing still,

letting the ideas

come to him.

That’s how I feel when I go out with the camera. I purposely avoid analyzing and preconceiving. The hope is that if I can clean the window, whatever is on the other side will be clearly seen. I wait for something to announce its appearance even if I am stalking places that have formerly presented me with something with which to make a photograph."

Here's to gifts.
So, in other words, we need cameras with a vacuum cleaner attachment? ;-)
Todd Henson(non-registered)
I like this quote, and I think like you, it resonates with how I most often practice photography. Yes I sometimes go out with a very specific goal in mind, but most times I'm just seeing what nature has on offer that day. And even when I have something specific in mind my eyes are always looking around for whatever else might show up. Granted, I think the reason this saying resonates is because of the type of photography I/we typically practice, mostly outdoors and full of all the unexpected that naturally entails. For studio photographs perhaps making a photograph is still the more appropriate term. :-)
Jodie Hulden(non-registered)
Hi Joe, I love this quote and agree totally because this is what I experience. The "universe" offers its gifts and it's our job to welcome them in whatever way we can - a photograph, a poem, a song, our astonishment, our reverence. Even phrases that we use, such as "my work", "my art", "my photography" etc. are concepts to question. We are part of the equation, yes, but the experience is so interdependent on forces we can never define, that I have found the only true response is my silence before it.
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