All I can do in my writing is to stimulate a certain amount of thought, clarify some technical facts and date my work. But when I preach sharpness, brilliancy, scale, etc., I am just mouthing words, because no words can really describe those terms and qualities it takes the actual print to say, "here it is."
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.
The dismal half-baked images of the average "reportage" and "documentary" photography are self dammning... the slick manner, the slightly obscure significance, the esoteric fear of simple beauty for its own sake – I am deeply concerned with these manifestations of decay. Gene Smith's work validates my most vigorous convictions that if the documentary photographs is to be truly effective it must contain elements of art, intensity, fine craft and spirituality. All these his work contains and we may turn to his work with gratitude, appreciation and great respect.
To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces and record the qualities of nature and humanity which live or are latent in all things. Impression is not enough. Design, style, technique, - these, too, are not enough. Art must reach further than impression or self-revelation. Art, said Alfred Stieglitz, is the affirmation of life. And life, or its eternal evidence is everywhere. Some photographers take reality as the sculptors take wood and stone and upon it impose the dominations of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and elevation. A true photograph need not be explained, nor can be contained in words.
An art is definable only in its own terms; it is as difficult to write about photography as it is about music, especially from a personal viewpoint. I feel that as one grows older his credo becomes simpler and more direct. Penetrating the smoke screens of equipment and techniques, glamor, ideology, and simple achievementmotive, the art of photography appears as strong and vital – and purposeful – as any other creative medium, and stands cleanly on its own feet. We are confronted today with a dichotomy; as our equipment and materials constantly grow in scope and quality the creative and technical standards appear to be diminishing; there is a near-cult of photographers who seem to intentionally avoid the beautiful and precise image, concentrating only on subject and obvious function. My personal reaction to this attitude is a determination to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. I believe in the most beautiful and appropriate prints, and the most clarifying and revealing approach of mind, heart, and craft. I believe that firm objectives in this directin can fulfill the promis of photography as one of the great visual arts. However, we must always be logical in our critical estimates; most of photography is not intended as art and should ot be judges as such. But if art is intended, compromise must not be tolerated.
Ansel Adams in 1930 had been training to become a concert pianist while considering a career as a photographer. He decided, after seeing the photographs by Paul Strand, that "the camera, not the piano, would shape [his] destiny." His mother and aunt both pleaded, "Do not give up the piano! The camera cannot express the human soul!" To which Adams replied, "The camera cannot, but the photographer can."
Photography is an investigation of both the outer and the inner worlds. The first experiences with the camera involve looking at the world beyond the lens, trusting the instrument will 'capture' something 'seen.' The terms shoot and take are not accidental; they represent an attitude of conquest and appropriation. Only when the photographer grows into perception and creative impulse does the term make define a condition of empathy between the external and the internal events.
A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in its entirety. This visual expression of feeling should be set forth in terms of a simple devotion to the medium. It should be a statement of the greatest clarity and perfection possible under the conditions of its creation and production. My approach to photography is based on my belief in the vigor and values of the world of nature, in aspects of grandeur and minutiae all about us. I believe in people, in the simpler aspects of human life, in the relation of man to nature. I believe man must be free, both in spirit and society, that he must build strength into himself, affirming the enormous beauty of the world and acquiring the confidence to see and to express his vision. And I believe in photography as one means of expressing this affirmation and of achieving an ultimate happiness and faith.
I respect everything in change and the solomn beauty of life and death. I believe man will obtain freedom of spirit of society, and therefore while man amidst the emence beauty of objective bodies, he must possess the capacity of self perfection and must observe and represent his world with full confidence. I believe photography is a tool to express our positive assessment of the world. A tool to acquire ultimate happiness and belief.
In some [photographs] the essence of light and space dominate; in others, the substance of rock and wood, and the luminous insistence of growing things....It is my intention to present-through the medium of photography-intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to spectators...
...A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in it's entirety. . . I believe in photography as one means of achieving an ultimate happiness and faith.
The quality of place, the reaction to immediate contact with earth and growing things that have a fugal relationship with mountains and sky, is essential to the integrity of our existence on this planet.
We all move on the fringes of eternity and are sometimes granted vistas through fabric of illusion. Many refuse to admit it: I feel a mystery exists. There are certain times, when, as on the whisper of the wind, there comes a clear and quiet realisation that there is indeed a presence in the world, a nonhuman entity that is not necessarily inhuman.
My private glimpses of some ideal reality create a lasting mood that that has often been recalled in some of my photographs. . . the subtle change of light across a waterfall moved me as did a singular vista of a far-off mountain under a leaden sky. Others might well have not responded at all. Deep resonances of spirit exist, giving us glimpses of a reality far beyond our general appreciation, and knowledge. . . .no matter how many stars we see in a clear mountain sky, we now know that they are but a minuscule fragment of the total population of suns and planets in the billions of galaxies out there in the incomprehensible void.
The only things in my life that compatibly exist with this grand universe are the creative works of the human spirit.
I have often had a retrospective vision where everything in my past life seems to fall with significance into logical sequence. Intuition, suspicion, or confidence in new ventures; there is a strange strain within me when advantage is not taken of some situation, the immediacy of recognition of the rightness or wrongness of a mood, a response, a decision - they are so often valid that I am increasingly convinced that we have yet to grasp the reality of existence.
...with most of my photographs, the subject appears as a found object, something discovered, not arranged by me. I usually have an immediate recognition of the potential image, and I have found that too much concern about matters such as conventional composition may take the edge off the first inclusive reaction.
So, after all, you come to a point where you start potboiling, and that’s the curse of many artists… literally every time I look in the ground glass I see something, and I say, ‘Gee that looks nice.’ But, as I’ve said, I’ve done it better; I’ve done it before. It’s a copy… the chances are pretty much, having done it, I could do many things like it, but would they be better?