the photoshooter's journey from taking to making




OVER THE YEARS, The Normal Eye has posted articles that, in place of my own random meanderings, are composed of collections of quotations from the photographers who speak to us with their words as well as their images….not to “explain” any one frame, but to describe what commonly motivates us all about the process of picture-making. Many of these masters new and old convey many of the same passions and pursuits we all share, and their thoughts are usually offered here as a mere roster of stand-alone quotes. Simple.

However, over time, so many of these artists have crossed into the same areas that I wondered how to demonstrate just how much that all have in common, and so, for today, my seventy-first birthday, I thought I’d try to patch several of the best together to form a kind of photographic TedTalk that might easily have come from a single mind. After each separate quote, you’ll see a number which you can reference at the end of the post for attribution of that portion. So “picture” an anonymous interviewer posing the simple question, “tell me about your approach to photography” and getting an answer like..

All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.1 A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.2 Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.3 There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know, with intuition, when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. 4 One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. 5 Since I’m inarticulate, I express myself with images.6 The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.7 One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time. 8 Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information. 9 If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument. 10 It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter. 11 Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field. 12 To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravity before going for a walk. 13 When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence. 14

My birthdays have all been graced with images that effectively arrested time in their flight, capturing not only light, but passion, adventure, curiosity, and, occasionally, truth. The people who made them have given that eternal birthday present to me. Every day of every year, I get to shred the wrapping paper on a fresh treasure. And laugh, like a delighted child.

Key to quotes

1. Richard Avedon. 2. Irvin Penn 3. Garry Winogrand. 4.Henri Cartier-Bresson. 5. Dorothea Lange. 6.Helen Levitt. 7.Elliott Erwitt. 8. Annie Leibovitz. 9. Man Ray. 10. Eve Arnold. 11. Alfred Eisenstadt. 12. Peter Adams. 13. Edward Weston.


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