How I became a Photographist


“While there, we looked down into the street beneath, and saw a photographist preparing to take a view of the castle, and calling out to some little girl in some niche or on some pinnacle of the walls to stand still that he might catch her figure and face.”

from English Notebooks, Volume 1, by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1854

The question never came up before. Really! Until recently, when I met someone at an event. I handed her my card and she asked me, “What is a Photographist?” I was quite startled, because for the two years I have been using the “title” on my business card, no one had ever asked me. I assumed people were either too embarrassed to ask, didn’t notice the difference in spelling from “photographer”, or assumed it was a typo.


It all started a few years back when I was searching for some photographic terms to use in branding my blog. I was looking for new terms and titles that described shooting pictures, attempting to steer away from the familiar and worn out “photos, images, photographs and photographers”. While searching words in Google and an online Thesaurus, I discovered a word I had never seen before. Photographist. I immediately looked up the word in Merriam’s Online Dictionary. “A Photographer.”

Extensive searching in other dictionaries achieved the same result. Just another word for photographer.

Convinced that there must be more of an explanation for this word, its usage, and its origin, I began a Google search for “photographist” and perused the fifty pagers of Google entries pertaining to this perplexing word.

Many of the uses were for photographers, primarily in Europe. A number of websites were labeled with “photographist” in the title. There seemed to be no real explanation for the word or what, if any difference existed between “photographer” and “photographist”. Until I got about half way through the entries. (Those who do some Google searching know it is rare to go into a search for more than a few pages, much less fifty.)

I found an article on the origins of words. On page 325, in a chapter titled “Developmment of Engineering words”, in the Bulletin of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, Volume 6, I found a discussion on the formation and origin of compound words.

photo word

It seems there was controversy over the formation of a word for someone who makes photographs. Many etymologists did not agree with mixing words from different countries and literary origins. “Photograph” was from Greek origin and the “ers” were Anglo-Saxon. The “ists” were Greek, making photographist a natural conclusion. But “biographers” and “geographers” were already well established in the English language. So the early debate ensued. An early Noah Webster dictionary does not list photographer as one who shoots photographs, only a photographist.

But by the time the next addition of his dictionary had been published, Noah Webster only listed photographer in his dictionary. Photographer had won!

One blog I uncovered compared photographers and modern-day photographists. While there is a surge in modern-day photographists, his research discovered that many were working in the area of combining photographs into collages and other multi-media art forms.

Finally, I had uncovered the secret to how I would define this newly found word and its relevance to my photographic work. The definition gives meaning to the advances in digital photography and the use of Photoshop in creating an image that excels in dynamics and creativity.

Found by clicking on the asterisk beside the word “photographist” on my website ( comes this definition for my title.



(Pho’ tog ra phist) n.

1) A photographer.

2) A person who combines the artistic aspects of photography with technical enhancements, creating an image that exceeds expectations and improves the original visual concept.

And that is how I became a Photographist!