The photographer begins to feel big and bloated and so big he can't walk through one of these doors because he gets a good byline; he gets notices all over the world and so forth; but they're really --the important people are the people he photographs. They are what make him.
I've known both misery and happiness, lived in so many different skins it is impossible for one skin to claim me. And I have felt like a wayfarer on an alien planet at times — walking, running, wondering about what brought me to this particular place, and why. But once I was here the dreams started moving in, and I went about devouring them as they devoured me.
l want my children and children's children to be able to look at my pictures and know what my world was like. Even if it only helps a little bit toward this understanding, then I've done my job and done it well.
You have a 45mm automatic pistol on your lap, and I have a 35mm camera on my lap, and my weapon is just as powerful as yours.
I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapon against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or gun, like many of my childhood friends did…
What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty, the discrimination and he bigotry, by showing the people who suffered most under it. That was the way it had to be done.
I had known poverty firsthand, but there I learned how to fight its evil—along with the evil of racism—with a camera.
You know, the camera is not meant just to show misery. You can show beauty with it; you can do a lot of things. You can show—with a camera you can show things that you like about the universe, things you hate about the universe. It's capable of doing both. And I think that after nearly 85 years upon this planet that I have a right after working so hard at showing the desolation and the poverty, to show something beautiful as well. It’s all there, and you've only done half the job if you don’t do that.
I have for a long time, worked under the premise that everyone is worth something; that every life is valuable to our own existence. Consequently, I’ve felt it was my camera’s responsibility to shed light on any condition that hinders growth or warps the spirit of those trapped in the ruinous evils of poverty... To me they were ghosts of my own past.
I thought then , and Roy Stryker eventually proved it to me, that you could not photograph a person who turns you away from the motion picture window, or someone who refuses to feed you, or someone who refuses to wait on you in a store. You could not photograph him and say “This is a bigot,” because bigots have a way of looking like everybody else.
I must attempt to transcend the limitations of my own experience by sharing, as deeply as possible, the problems of those I photograph.
The world must see the tragedy of poverty as it is, and feel all its drama. Everyone must face the problems of humanity. My way of facing these issues is through photography. It is important because it can show, without needing words, everything that is wrong and can be improved.
I suffered first as a child from discrimination, poverty ... So I think it was a natural follow from that that I should use my camera to speak for people who are unable to speak for themselves.
I don’t know that I was any better equipped. I probably ... in some instances I was, more than probably the white photographers because of an emotional something that probably I was closer to or akin to which has certainly been in my favour since. Some of those Negro stories that I’ve done for Life and Standard Oil and other places have dealt with poverty, dealt with the emotional aspect of everyday living, because my own life was packed, early life, was packed with so much of it.
I've been asked if I think there will ever come a time when all people come together. I would like to think there will. All we can do is hope and dream and work toward that end. And that's what I've tried to do all my life.
Think in terms of images and words. They can be mighty powerful when they are fitted together properly.
I was born to a black childhood of confusion and poverty. The memory of that beginning influences my work today, It is impossible now to photograph a hungry child without remembering the hunger of my old childhood.
The subject matter is so much more important than the photographer. The important people are the people he photographs. They are what make him.
The funny and sad thing is that photography is an art, but these guys have such an inferiority complex about it that all they do is tag on gold-plate words where they aren’t needed. If they’d only let it talk for itself.
We must give up silent watching and put our commitments into practice. We need miracles now, I am afraid. If only we could understand the needs of our past, then perhaps we could anticipate our future. We cannot get too comfortable in our houses. Wolves still roam the woods. The hawk still hangs in the air. And restless generals still talk of death in their secret rooms.
..I feel it’s the heart, not the eye, that should determine the content of the photograph. What the eye sees is its own. What the heart can perceive is a very different matter.
I want my children and my children’s children to be able to look at my pictures and know what my world was like. Even if it only helps a little bit toward this understanding, then I’ve done my job and done it well.
Pictures I’ve made that have become the most important pictures, were pictures that I wished I never had to take – of people who were impoverished, people in need – and I suppose that I pointed my camera mostly at people who needed someone to say something for them. They couldn’t speak for themselves.
I’d become sort of involved in things that were happening to people. No matter what colour they be, whether they be Indians, or Negroes, the poor white person or anyone who was I thought more or less getting a bad shake. I thought I had the instinct toward championing the cause.
I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did ... most of whom were murdered or put in prison ... but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognise me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so.