...When I started to be published I thought about Margaret Bourke-White and the whole journalistic approach to things. I believed I was supposed to catch life going by me – that I wasn’t to alter it or tamper with it – that I was just to watch what was going on and report it as best I could. This shoot with John was different. I got involved, and I realized that you can’t help but be touched by what goes on in front of you. I no longer believe that there is such a thing as objectivity. Everyone has a point of view. Some people call it style, but what we’re really talking about is the guts of a photograph. When you trust your point of view, that’s when you start taking pictures.
Do you think your subjects relax more because you’re a woman ?
I just always think of myself as a photographer. I never separated those things. I never thought, well, I’m a woman and that’s why I’m getting these images as opposed to other images, if that’s what you’re asking. Are you saying that there’s a woman’s point of view in my pictures ?
Well, yes, I am suggesting that about your point of view. But I’m also thinking about what happens to an individual psychologically when he or she is in front of the camera. One of the most obvious things to grab onto in that complex experience is the person who is taking your picture.
I think that in the beginning, particularly, when I was younger, I didn’t seem threatening, and that was useful. I like to think that I let the subject be whoever they want to be, and maybe the fact that I’m a woman makes that process easier. I don’t know. Perhaps I empathize with the subjects more than a male photographer might, and so when I direct a sitting ideas may come more often from the people I’m photographing. For example, with the Sting picture, people ask, “How did you get Sting to undress ?”. Well, I didn’t. We were in the desert, out in the middle of nowhere; it was very hot and stark. And he said he wanted to take his clothes off. It felt very natural to him.
The first thing I did with my very first camera was climb Mt. Fuji. Climbing Mt. Fuji is a lesson in determination and moderation. It would be fair to ask if I took the moderation part to heart. But it certainly was a lesson in respecting your camera. If I was going to live with this thing, I was going to have to think about what that meant. There were not going to be any pictures without it.
I've said about a million times that the best thing a young photographer can do is to stay close to home. Start with your friends and family, the people who will put up with you. Discover what it means to be close to your work, to be intimate with a subject. Measure the difference between that and working with someone you don't know as much about. Of course there are many good photographs that have nothing to do with staying close to home, and I guess what I'm really saying is that you should take pictures of something that has meaning for you...
You just have to work and not give up during the miserable times. It's actually rewarding to keep doing it when you think you can't do it anymore. It only gets more interesting. I can't tell you how important it is to express yourself and then take your own feelings and express what's going on in this world.
I like people to look good. I don’t mean good as in glamorous. I was photographing my parents for their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and I thought, “Maybe I’m going to do an Avedon.” I was thinking of the pictures he took of his father. Then I look at my parents and I want them to be beautiful. I mean, I want to love how they look.
When I take portraits of people, I can usually get them to relax—although I don’t try to make them relax. In fact, I’m as interested in someone being uncomfortable as I am in their being comfortable. There is a myth that the portrait photographer is supposed to make the subject relax, and that’s the real person. But I’m interested in whatever is going on. And I’m not that comfortable myself!
...“Rolling Stone” started giving me assignments right away, which made me worry about having crossed over to the other side. I was selling pictures. The photographers I admired were not photographers who worked for magazines on assignment, but people who chose what they did from the inside – or so it seemed at the time. And I wondered if I was betraying something. And then I found out about what it meant to be published, especially what it was to have a photograph on the cover of a magazine, which is what happened a couple of months later. I can never forget the sensation of being at a newsstand and seeing for the first time my photograph transformed into the “Rolling Stone” cover. It was a lot different from having a photograph floating around in the wash, or pinned on a bulletin board at school.
…Photography’s like this baby that needs to be fed all the time. It’s always hungry. It needs to be read to, taken care of. I had to nourish my work with different approaches. One of the reasons that I went to Vanity Fair was that I knew I would have a broader range of subjects – writers, dancers, artists and musicians of all kinds. And I wanted to learn about glamour. I admire the work of photographers like Beaton, Penn, and Avedon, as much as I respected grittier photographers such as Robert Frank. But in the same way that I’d had to find my own way of reportage, I had to find my own form of glamour.
Do you ever think about doing a self-portrait ?
(…) I think self-portraits are very difficult. I’ve always seen mine as straightforward, very stripped down, hair pulled back. No shirt. Whatever light happened to be available. I’d want it to be very graphic – about darkness and light. No one else should be there, but I’m scared to do it by myself. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. The whole idea of a self-portrait is strange. I’m so strongly linked to how I see through the camera that to get to the other side of it would be difficult. It would be as if I were taking a photograph in the dark.
I’m still fascinated by the surprise of images—that images can be so powerful. And I want them to be powerful before they’re laid down in the magazine spread. There are a lot of photographs that work well for magazines, but don’t work outside of them. But real photographs have to have a life outside of the magazine; I mean, outside that very powerful form of presentation a magazine provides. Each image has to stand on its own.