Very often people looking at my pictures say, 'You must have had to wait a long time to get that cloud just right (or that shadow, or the light).' As a matter of fact, I almost never wait, that is, unless I can see that the thing will be right in a few minutes. But if I must wait an hour for the shadow to move, or the light to change, or the cow to graze in the other direction, then I put up my camera and go on, knowing that I am likely to find three subjects just as good in the same hour.
I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enameled receptacle of extraordinary beauty....Here was every sensuous curve of the 'human figure divine' but minus the imperfections. Never did the Greeks reach a more significant consummation to their culture, and it somehow reminded me, forward movement of finely progressing contours, of the Victory of Samothrace.
She leaned against a whitewashed wall--lips quivering--nostrils dilating--eyes heavy with the gloom of unspent rain clouds--I drew close to her--whispered something and kissed her--a tear rolled down her cheek--and then I captured forever the moment--let me see f.8--1/10 sec. K1 filter--panchromatic film--how brutally mechanical and calculated it sounds--yet how really spontaneous and genuine--for I have so overcome the mechanics of my camera that it functions responsive to my desires--my shutter coordinating with my brain is released in a way—as natural as I might move my arm--I am beginning to approach actual attainment in photography--that in my ego of two or three years ago I thought to have already reached--it will be necessary for me to destroy, to unlearn, and then rebuild upon the mistaken presumptuousness of my past--the moment of our mutual emotion was recorded on the silver—the release of those emotions followed--we passed from the glare of the sun on white walls into Tina’s darkened room--her olive skin and sombre nipples were revealed beneath a black mantilla--I drew the lace aside.
The prejudice many photographers have against colour photography comes from not thinking of colour as form. You can say things with colour that can’t be said in black and white… Those who say that colour will eventually replace black and white are talking nonsense. The two do not compete with each other. They are different means to different ends.
Anything that excites me, for any reason, I will photograph: not searching for unusual subject matter but making the commonplace unusual, nor indulging in extraordinary technique to attract attention. Work only when desire to the point of necessity impels – then do it honestly. Then so called “composition” becomes a personal thing, to be developed along with technique, as a personal way of seeing.
But photography is not all seeing in the sense that the eyes see. Our vision, a binocular one, is in a continuous state of flux, while the camera captures and fixes forever (unless the damn prints fade !) a single, isolated condition of the moment. Besides, we use lenses of various focal lengths to purposely exaggerate actual seeing, and we often “overcorrect” color for the same reason. In printing we carry on our willful distortion of fact by using contrasty papers which give results quite different from the sense or object as it was in nature.
Our sensibilities today are not fooled by the novelty of the camera process; modern men clearly feel the individual personality of each of the authors of different photographs, although made at the same time and in the same space. We feel the personality of the photographer as clearly as that of the painter, draughtsman, or printmaker. Actually, camera and darkroom manipulations are a technique, like oil, pencil, or watercolor; and, above all, the means of expression of human personality.
The... arguments against photography ever being considered a fine art are: the element of chance which enters in, finding things ready-made for a machine to record, and of course the mechanics of the medium. ...I say that chance enters into all branches of art: a chance word or phrase starts a new trend of thought in a writer, a chance sound may bring a new melody to a musician, a chance combination of lines, new composition to a painter. ...Chance – which in reality is not chance – but being ready, attuned to one's surroundings – and grasp my opportunity....
A painter of prolific imagination might not be able to execute a hundredth of his ideas on canvas in a lifetime because of the time consumed by his recording process. But for the photographer seeing and recording are almost simultaneous. His output is limited only by his ability to see. For this reason it has always been my belief that an experienced photographer, given the means to devote himself entirely to creative expression, should be able to produce a tremendous amount of valuable work.
I start with no preconceived idea - discovery excites me to focus - then rediscovery through the lens - final form of presentation seen on ground glass, the finished print previsioned completely in every detail of texture, movement, proportion, before exposure - the shutter's release automatically and finally fixes my conception, allowing no after manipulation - the ultimate end, the print, is but a duplication of all that I saw and felt through my camera.
One does not think during creative work, any more than one thinks when driving a car. But one has a background of years - learning, unlearning, success, failure, dreaming, thinking, experience, all this - then the moment of creation, the focusing of all into the moment. So I can make 'without thought,' fifteen carefully considered negatives, one every fifteen minutes, given material with as many possibilities. But there is all the eyes have seen in this life to influence me.
...success in photography, portraits especially, is dependent on being able to grasp those supreme instants which pass with the ticking of a clock, never to be duplicated - so light, balance - expression must be seen - felt as it were - in a flash, the mechanics and technique being so perfected in one as to be absolutely automatic.
The photographer’s most important and likewise most difficult task is not learning to manage his camera, or to develop, or to print. It is learning to see photographically – that is, learning to see his subject matter in terms of the capacities of his tools and processes, so that he can instantaneously translate the elements and values in a scene before him into the photograph he wants to make.
Success in photography, portraiture especially, is dependent on being able to grasp those supreme instants which pass with the ticking of a clock, never to be duplicated – so light, balance – expression must be seen – felt as it were – in a flash, the mechanics and technique being so perfected in one as to be absolutely automatic.
I have been photographing our toilet, that glossy enameled receptacle of extraordinary beauty. Here was every sensuous curve of the "human figure divine" but minus the imperfections. Never did the Greeks reach a more significant consummation to their culture, and it somehow reminded me, in the glory of its chaste convulsions and in its swelling, sweeping, forward movement of finely progressing contours, of the Victory of Samothrace.
The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don't know what to do with it.
The great scientist dares to differ from accepted “facts”, - think irrationally – let the artist do likewise. And photographers, even those, or especially those, taking new or different paths should never become crystallized in the theories through which they advance. Let the eyes work from inside out – do not imitate “photographic painting”, in a desire to be photographic !
The creative force in man recognizes and records these rhythms with the medium most suitable to him, the object, or the moment, feeling the cause, the life within the outer form. Recording unfelt facts, acquired by rule, results in sterile inventory. To see the Thing Itself is essential: the quintessence revealed direct without the fog of impressionism - the casual noting of the superficial phase, a transitory mood.
Someone reading over my statement questioned my use of the word 'impressionism'. To me it has always meant for example a tree momentarily shimmering in brilliant sun or the same tree drenched half hidden by a passing storm; painted, etched or photographed under such conditions— the transitory instead of the eternal. But I don't want the play of sunlight to excite the fancy, nor the mystery of gloom to invoke the imagination— wearing coloured glasses— I want the greater mystery of things revealed more clearly than the eyes see, at least more than the layman, the casual observer notes. I would have a microscope, shall have one some day.
How little subject matter counts in the ultimate reaction! If there is any symbolism in my work, it can only be in a very broad consideration of life, the seeing of parts, fragments, as universal symbols, the understanding of relativity everywhere. All basic forms are so closely related as to be visually equivalent... I have had a back (before close inspection) taken for a pear, knees for shell forms, a squash for a flower, and rocks for almost everything imaginable!