The best part of us is not what we see, it's what we feel. We are what we feel. We are not what we look at . . .. We're not our eyeballs, we're our mind. People believe their eyeballs and they're totally wrong . . .. That's why I consider most photographs extremely boring--just like Muzak, inoffensive, charming, another waterfall, another sunset. This time, colors have been added to protect the innocent. It's just boring. But that whole arena of one's experience--grief, loneliness--how do you photograph lust? I mean, how do you deal with these things? This is what you are, not what you see. It's all sitting up here. I could do all my work sitting in my room. I don't have to go anywhere.
The only thing we know for sure is what we experience. If you look at a photograph of somebody crying, you register grief. But in fact, you don't know what people are experiencing at all. You're always protecting your version of what that emotion is. What is known is only what I know. The only truth I know is my own experience. I don't know what it means to be black. I don't know what it means to be a woman. I don't know what it means to be Cartier-Bresson. So I have to define my work in terms of my own truth. That's what the journey is all about, if you are to use your own instincts. The great wonder is that we each have our own validity, our own mysteries. It's the sharing of those gifts that makes artists artists.
Because of my involvement with my photographs, it is difficult for me really to see them objectively. Talking about them is like talking about myself. The only real idea that I have about them is that they are essentially snapshots. For snapshots, I feel, often have an inherent simplicity and directness that I find beautiful. The roots of my photographs are in this tradition.
However, I think that the photographer must completely control his picture and bring to it all his personality, and in this area most photographs never transcend being just snapshots. When a great photographer does infuse the snapshot with his personality and vision, it can be transformed into something truly moving and beautiful.
I do not walk the streets with my camera looking for life. I am not a reporter. I am not a spectator. I am life. I am it. The images that I see in my mind are infinitely more me and real to me than any chance, accidental event I might witness in the streets. I am my own limitations. Every event in my consciousness is stuff for my photographs. At the centre of my seeing is my life experience as the event. I can sit in my room and the univone_comes to me. I am in flux. At the centre of my being is nothing. I do not invent ideas any more than I consciously make my fingernails grow. Everything is quite extraordinary, but we use all our energies to make things ordinary. Photographers look too much and do not question the very mechanics of their experience. They take it all for granted: they shouldn't. One must invent photographs that are essentially doomed to failure because they can at best be only approximations, shadows of reality as we are shadow. Sequences are to me like haiku, just moments, I was dissatisfied with the single image because I could not bend it to a wider expression. In a sequence the sum total of all the photographs suggest something that no one picture could say. There is no point to doing a sequence, unless the sequence makes a point. Otherwise it becomes an exercise in cleverness. It must go beyond itself. At this point in my work it seems very natural that I would have arrived at the concept of sequential stories.
Photographers show you what a sunset looks like, they show you what a moonrise over Hernandez looks like, they show you women’s breasts or empty car lots, but they don’t play with your mind. I’m not saying all photographers should play with your mind, but it’s an option they don’t exercise. I think photographs should be provocative and not tell you what you already know.
You can never capture a person in picture, never. You might get an interesting expression or gesture. I almost never research a picture subject ahead of time. I think Karsh is full of baloney. Can you imagine spending a whole week out in La Jolla with Jonas Salk soaking up his ambiance, then wind up making him look as if he’s in the studio in Ottawa with his thumb under his chin?
You go to these schools, and the kids all show you gorgeous prints of water running over pebbles. I’d rather see a not-so-gorgeous mistake of a brilliant idea, an idea that maybe the kid didn’t even know how to solve technically, but who cares, because he’s talking about something incredible. It’s not the medium, it’s the message for me.
Good portraits fail. They fail depending on, of course, what you're trying to express or see, but they fail because they show you exactly what famous people look like, or anybody looks like. A line, line, like a duplication even. People have made big careers out of simply photographing people under the same light, ad nauseam. I don't care what somebody's face looks like, but I care about who they are, what they represent, their energy. How do you express that? I have no idea.
If you look at a photograph, and you think, 'My isn't that a beautiful photograph,' and you go on to the next one, or 'Isn't that nice light?' so what? I mean what does it do to you or what's the real value in the long run? What do you walk away from it with? I mean, I'd much rather show you a photograph that makes demands on you, that you might become involved in on your own terms or be perplexed by.
If I was concerned about being accepted, I would have been doing Ansel Adams lookalikes, because that was easily accepted. Everything I did was never accepted...but luckily for me, my interest in the subject and my passion for the subject took me to the point that I wasn't wounded by that, and eventually, people came around to me.
Photographers are always cast as spectators. They’re always walking down the street responding to something they see on the street. They never make things happen themselves. Well, what I’m doing is really creating my own private world and making my own thing happen. I’m not relying on accidental events.
[Photography] deals with religious hypocrisy, and abortion, and homosexuality, all the buzzwords in American culture. Everything should be subject to photography, not just the polite things like moonrise and sunsets and tits and ass. I mean everything, your dreams and your nightmares and Margaret Thatcher.
How foolish of me to have believed that it would be that easy. I had confused the appearance of trees and automobiles and people with reality itself and believed that a photograph of these appearances to be a photograph of it. It is a melancholy truth that I will never be able to photograph it and can only fail. I am a reflection photographing other reflections within a reflection. To photograph reality is to photograph nothing.
You have two choices in life—doing and bullshit. I hate photographers who talk about photographs but never take any. And the only way you’re ever going to grow... two things, one you have to take risks, you have to be able to let go of all your preconceived notions of what photography should be, and open yourself to the possibilities.
I believe in the invisible. I do not believe in the definitive reality of things around us. For me, reality is the intuition and the imagination and the quiet voice inside my head that says: isn’t that extraordinary? The things in our lives are the shadows of reality, just as we ourselves are shadows.