On Taking Pictures

On Taking Pictures

by Katie Giritlian

Cards for close looking at photographs and noticing relationships that carry, and are carried by, images.

All together, these cards operate as a syllabus, transmitting a program for studying photography, equipping us with tools to critically and lovingly engage the implications of photographs, and providing us room to imagine possibilities beyond the photographic frame. 

These cards, a project of 3+ years, are a prototype, and will change and morph as they’re used and move through the world (they already have!!!!) The cards are part of a larger project from paper cameras press—a small press that develops and prints publications for studying photography practices and reimagining modalities of capture. More on that later! 

How to use these cards: 


  • Locate photographs you wish to study: perhaps some that inspire you, some that trouble you, some that incite deep love, or even some that confuse you. The voice of this deck of cards supposes the reader is not the photographer of the selected photograph(s); however, such is the case to invite close and careful looking! A photograph you select may very well be one you, yourself, have made! 
  • You can download a PDF file to print your own 5 x 7”cards, here. We recommend printing on some form of transparent or vellum paper (see photos below), but we also recognize such materials can be difficult to access, and so we invite any printing or copying interpretation!
    • We are also working on printing an abundance of these cards. If you need access to printer/paper, we’d love to print some for you :)) If you are interested in some, email papercamera.press@gmail.com

Card Choreography: 
The deck contains 3 card types: 

  1. Definitions: introduces general terms;
  2. Notice: provides questions for generating observations;
  3. Relationships: helps tether your observations to relationships of, within, and beyond photography.

Definition-cards introduce how the deck frames photography. 

Notice-cards facilitate the first touches, the first questions, the first attempts at close-looking. They offer prompts to generate observations and questions for carrying into the final card series. They are scaffolded, so for comprehension, we recommend following these cards in the order of their number.

Relationship-cards help you draw connections between your Notice-cards. For example, they may help you contextualize power dynamics within and beyond the photograph, or help you imagine the scale of community and love eluding the shutter. 

All together, the Relationship-cards are organized into three modalities of photography: extractive capture, loving observation, and self-determined documentation. These are the modalities that paper cameras press carries to hold photography accountable for its involvement in violent legacies, while also honoring the loving practices and possibilities this medium can facilitate. 

Depending on your photograph(s), some of the Relationship-cards may resonate more than others. For ease, we recommend sprawling all of the Relationship-cards out and consider them as a bundle of potential associations—ready to try on, try out, and let go as needed. 

Touch to Notice:

As you move through the deck, place the cards onto your selected photograph(s). Engaging touch and active reading, notice what you see: what do the cards’ captions illuminate for you? You can write down your accumulating observations onto a sheet or note, or just move through the deck and stash your observations to memory as desired or needed.  

We imagine these cards can be used within, but not limited to, the following contexts:

  • art history, history, media studies classes in which you can study visual-based archives  
  • photography, or lens-based classes in which you can refer to or pull from visual-based archives
  • for someone who engages with visual research, and wishes to reflect on the images they use
  • for someone who wants help weighing the implications of a photograph they just made
  • for someone who wants to spend intimate time with a photograph


Two photos of the orange definition card and a pink notice card in use, alongside a black and white photograph.
A translucent relationship card being put in use with the same photo from above.
Two photos: A range of the translucent cards being held up in front of a window, the light shining through them. and a close-up on a definition and notice card.


Language on these cards is indebted to the imaginations yielded by inaugural press co-authors and collaborators, Mira Dayal and beck haberstroh and their issue: Camera of Possibilities: A Workbook for a Carrier Bag Theory of Photography. The language on these cards has also been supported throughout multiple life cycles: I am grateful to support from companions Louis Bryant III, Johann Diedrick, Nicolay Duque, Caroline Partamian, Cole Thompson, Amy Yoshitsu, as well as the labors of thesis readers and advisors Josh Rios, Kristi McGuire, and Matthew Goulish. The forms of paper cameras press are indebted to the imaginations of many, noted here.

Katie Giritlian is referenced in How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Data, a syllabus by beck haberstroh (who On Taking Pictures also references).