Quotes on Photography

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Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child. Norman Mailer (b. 1923), U.S. author. Newsweek (New York, 22 Oct. 1984)

Any one who knows what the worth of family affection is among the lower classes, and who has seen the array of little portraits stuck over a labourer's fireplace . . . will perhaps feel with me that in counteracting the tendencies, social and industrial, which every day are sapping the healthier family affections, the sixpenny photograph is doing more for the poor than all the philanthropists in the world. MacMillan's Magazine (London, Sept. 1871)

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. Dorothea Lange (1895-1979), U.S. photographer. Quoted in: Los Angeles Times (13 Aug. 1978)

Sent to us by Kim Navarre of Bowling Green, Ohio:

"It's the way to educate your eyes. Stare. Pry, listen eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long." Walker Evans

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy, is in the eyes of others merely a green thing which stands in the way." William Blake

"Photography is about finding out what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts." Garry Winogrand

"A miracle is simply the wonder of the unique that points us back to the wonder of the everyday." Maurice Friedman

The magic of photography is metaphysical. What you see in the photograph isn't what you saw at the time. The real skill of photography is organised visual lying. Terence Donovan (b. 1936), British photographer. Guardian (London, 19 Nov. 1983)

A hundredth of a second here, a hundredth of a second there-even if you put them end to end, they still only add up to one, two, perhaps three seconds, snatched from eternity. Robert Doisneau (1912-1994), French photographer. Weekend Guardian (London, 4 April 1992)

In America, the photographer is not simply the person who records the past, but the one who invents it. Susan Sontag (b. 1933), U.S. essayist. On Photography, "Melancholy Objects" (1977)

We regard the photograph, the picture on our wall, as the object itself (the man, landscape, and so on) depicted there. This need not have been so. We could easily imagine people who did not have this relation to such pictures. Who, for example, would be repelled by photographs, because a face without color and even perhaps a face in reduced proportions struck them as inhuman. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), Austrian philosopher. Philosophical Investigations, pt. 2, sct. 11 (1953)

Photography suits the temper of this age-of active bodies and minds. It is a perfect medium for one whose mind is teeming with ideas, imagery, for a prolific worker who would be slowed down by painting or sculpting, for one who sees quickly and acts decisively, accurately. Edward Weston (1886-1958), U.S. photographer. The Daybooks of Edward Weston, vol. 3, pt. 3, ch. 10 (ed. by Nancy Newhall, 1925), June 1934 entry

I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term-meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching-there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster. Ansel Adams (1902-1984), U.S. photographer. "A Personal Credo," in American Annual of Photography, vol. 58 (1944; repr. in Photographers on Photography, ed. by Nathan Lyons, 1966)

If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, "I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life." I mean people are going to say, "You're crazy." Plus they're going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that's a reasonable kind of attention to be paid. Diane Arbus (1923-1971), U.S. photographer. Remarks made in class, 1971 (published in Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, 1972)

It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary. David Bailey (b. 1938), British photographer. Face (London, Dec. 1984)