Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Snap Shot

Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 22, 2010

The term “snap shot” has had a colour albeit short life in comparison to other terms.  It can mean a brief overview of a situation or a quick biography or a photograph or to hunting or even to hockey!  The history of the term “snap shot” is certainly varied and interesting.

Being nearly hockey season, I think providing that meaning at this point is helpful to all non-sports fans alike.  So when “snap shot” is used while discussing hockey, it refers to a quick shot where the blade of the stick is drawn back a short distance and then rapidly driven forward, with the wrists snapping inward after the puck leaves the stick.  In other words, a “snap shot“has the accuracy of a wrist shot blended with the power of a slapshot.

If we’re talking photographs and photography, then a “snap shot” is something else altogether.  Way back in the day, on March 8, 1896 — and much to the delight of readers of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper — the following headline was published:

Ghatty’s Snap Shot Photographers A Tramp!

The sub-headling below read:

And It Brought Her Great Good Fortune, Where She Expected The Reverse.

Eight years earlier, in the Journal of the Bombay Natural  History Society, Volume 3 in the segment entitled “Notes on Sambhur and Sambhur Stalking” written by Mr. Reginald Gilbert and read at the Society’s meeting on August 6, 1888, the following account was shared:

The horn is here, and has been given by me to this Society. On the 27th December , 1886, when stalking with Mr. Barton near the Taptee River, a few miles from Asirghur, in the Central Provinces, I put up a monster stag sambhur out of a thick nullah. It ran down the nullah. I was standing on the top. I only saw him for a second or two, and had only time to take a snap-shot at him before he passed round a bend in the nullah. The shell hit his horn from behind and knocked it off, splitting it up as you see. I picked the horn up and here it is.  I never saw that sambhur again; but to the last day of my life I shall never forget him or cease to regret I missed him.

From reading these last two uses for the term “snap shot” one might think that while hunting version of the term continued into the 20th century, that the camera version was something that came about sometime after 1890.  Not so.

On March 14, 1839, John Herschel — whose father was renowned astronomer William Hershel, the discoverer of Uranus — presented his paper entitled “Note on the Art of Photography or The Application of the Chemical Rays of Light to the Purpose of Pictorial Representation”  to the Royal Society.  The subject of the paper related to the first glass-plate photograph which was taken by Herschel and it is this photograph to which he referred to as being a “snap shot.”  He also coined the terms “negative” and “positive” within the context of photography.  For those who are curious, the photograph was that of his father’s 40-foot telescope, already a half-century old at the time the shot was snapped.

The hunting term “snap shot” was coined in 1808 by English sportsman Sir Henry Hawker.  His use of the term was a gun shot at a fast-moving target that was both quick and without aim.

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