Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shooting Scripts

Lewis Bush recently asked the world if anyone still used shooting scripts, which I kind of do, and it raised in my mind what I considered an interesting philosophical point.

Set aside the entire universe of pictures that are obviously constructed: still lifes, much studio work, and so on.

Contemporary thinking, I think, suggests that the photographer should first go out and photograph, in order to learn what is there. One might think up a project "The Oil Industry in South America" based on some notions and some research, but then one sets those notions aside and goes to learn what is truly there, with the camera. A great number of photographs are taken, and the artist returns home. Then the truth, or a truth, or the story, is gleaned out of the photographs and distilled into a show, or a book, or a portfolio of some sort.

We see this reflected here and there. Most recently I saw it in Colberg's book on Photobooks, in which he proposes that the normal path, the correct path, is to start with a completed project and then to go to work on the book. Shoot first, build the narrative, the project later.

The shooting script, at least in its full form, suggests that the photographer is approaching the work of taking the pictures with preconceived ideas, with the story already in place. Roy Stryker supplied his FSA photographers with shooting scripts, because he did have a story in mind. He probably thought it was a true story, but he was a propagandist, and there is no doubt that his scripts sometimes led his photographers to, well, less true stories. At best, other stories that might have been told were not told, at worst stories were simply fabricated from parts.

My life constrains me. I am the primary caregiver, as the kids say these days, to two small children. I cart them to and from school, and I cook, I clean, I pack lunches, I walk the dog, and so forth. I don't have time to go out and discover the truth with the camera. I don't have time to take 10,000 frames of something or other, and then sift that down to the 37 pictures that encapsulate The Truth about the something or other. Wish I could. Can't.

Shooting scripts make the photographer vastly more efficient. I needn't hunt around trying to discover what I am trying to say, I already know. I've spent a lot of time observing as I go about the minutiae of my life, I have spent a lot of time thinking as I wash dishes and whatnot. As a consequence, I have a clear idea of what I want to say, sometimes before I take a single picture. Sometimes I fool about taking some random snaps until something occurs to me, but I have a clear notion in mind before the real work starts.

Whatever it is that I am doing, whether I am telling lies, suppressing stories, or telling some kind of truth; whatever the nature of the thing I am saying is, I am not discovering it with the camera. I am discovering my work through observation and thinking.


  1. For the type of photography you do, and the way you do it, having a script probably is essential.

    For me and the type of photography I do, however, I can't imagine ever working with a script.

    I do, however, work with a rough outline in mind, so I don't lose my focus while I'm out and about with my camera. But nothing so formal as a script, even if it's only a casual one that exists in your head and not on paper.

    Luck and synchronicity are both important aspects of my projects and I fear that having a script in mind while I'm photographing will greatly inhibit and/or limit their presence, which is unacceptable to me and simply will not do.

    YMMV, obviously! 8^)

    1. I do not know, to be honest, whether the way I work has been shaped by the necessities of my life, or if I would work the same way no matter what.

  2. To complete a project of any significant scale where it's not easy or even possible to go back and re-shoot you need to have a crystal clear clarity of vision which would, I suppose, maniest as a scrip of sorts either formally or informally.

    Clarity of thought is just as important as your photochops.