I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to 'trap' life - to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
I went to Marseille. A small allowance enabled me to get along, and I worked with enjoyment. I had just discovered the Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to "trap" life - to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.
Our eye must constantly measure, evaluate. We alter our perspective by a slight bending of the knees; we convey the chance meeting of lines by a simple shifting of our heads a thousandth of an inch…. We compose almost at the same time we press the shutter, and in placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, we shape the details – taming or being tamed by them.
For a subject to be strong enough to be worth photographing, the relationship of its forms must be rigorously established. Composition starts when you situate your camera in space in relation to the object. For me, photography is the exploration in reality of the rhythm of surfaces, lines, or values; the eye carves out its subject, and the camera has only to do its work. That work is simply to print the eye’s decision on film.
Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we’re working, we must be conscious of what we’re doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we’ve taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.
Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes a precise moment in time. We play with subjects that disappear; and when they’re gone, it’s impossible to bring them back to life. We can’t alter our subject afterward.... Writers can reflect before they put words on paper.... As photographers, we don’t have the luxury of this reflective time....We can’t redo our shoot once we’re back at the hotel. Our job consists of observing reality with help of our camera (which serves as a kind of sketchbook), of fixing reality in a moment, but not manipulating it, neither during the shoot nor in the darkroom later on. These types of manipulation are always noticed by anyone with a good eye.
I’m always amused by the idea that certain people have about technique, which translate into an immoderate taste for the sharpness of the image. It is a passion for detail, for perfection, or do they hope to get closer to reality with this trompe I’oeil? They are, by the way, as far away from the real issues as other generations of photographers were when they obscured their subject in soft-focus effects.
The intensive use of photographs by mass media lays ever fresh responsibilities upon the photographer. We have to acknowledge the existence of a chasm between the economic needs of our consumer society and the requirements of those who bear witness to this epoch. This affects us all, particularly the younger generations of photographers. We must take greater care than ever not to allow ourselves to be separated from the real world and from humanity.
We must place ourselves and our camera in the right relationship with the subject, and it is in fitting the latter into the frame of the viewfinder that the problems of composition begin. This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements. Composition does not just happen; there must be a need for expression, and substance cannot be divorced from form.
We are faced with two moments of selection and thus of possible regret: the first and more serious when actuality is there, staring us in the viewfinder; and the second when all the shots have been developed and printed and we have to reject the less effective ones. It is then – too late – that we see exactly where we have failed. When we are at work, a moment’s hesitation or physical separation from the event robs us of some detail; all too often we have let our eye wander, we have lost our concentration; that is enough.
For us the camera is a tool, the extension of our eye, not a pretty little mechanical toy. It is sufficient that we should feel at ease with the camera best adapted for our purpose. Adjustments of the camera – such as setting the aperture and the speed – should become reflexes, like changing gear in a car. The real problem is one of intelligence and sensitivity.
She said, "Oh my wrinkles" and I told her it’s your own interesting thing, your wrinkles, after all it depends how they fall. Which is true, its life, it’s a mark of life. It depends how people have been living and all this is written on their face. After a certain age, you got the face you deserve I think.
If you start cutting or cropping a good photograph, it means death to the geometrically correct interplay of proportions. Besides, it very rarely happens that a photograph which was feebly composed can be saved by the reconstruction of its composition under the darkroom's enlarger; the integrity of vision is no longer there.
If a good photo is cropped, even ever so slightly, the relative proportions, the play of proportions, are sure to be destroyed, and besides, it is highly unlikely that a badly composed shot will be saved by trying to frame it anew in the darkroom, cropping the negative under the enlarger: the integrity of the initial vision is lost.
Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we're working, we must be conscious of what we're doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we've taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.
A photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating. A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction of a millimeter. He can modify perspectives by a slight bending of the knees. By placing the camera closer to or farther from the subject, he draws a detail. But he composes a picture in very nearly the same amount of time it takes to click the shutter, at the speed of a reflex action.
I'm not responsible for my photographs. Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It's drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can't go looking for it; you can't want it, or you want get it. First you must lose your self. Then it happens.
There’s a particular kind of painting that is no longer practiced, that of portraiture, and there are those who say that the discovery of photography is the cause. It does seem apt to credit photography with the abandonment by painters of this painterly form. A subject wearing a military coat, a cap, and sitting on a horse can discourage even the most well-schooled painter, who feels owerwhelmed by all the details of the costume. We, as photographers, are not bothered by all these dertails. Rather, we enjoy ourselves, because we can easily capture life in all its reality through our camera.
If the photographer succeeds in reflecting the exterior as well as interior world, his subject appear as “in real life.” In order to achieve this, the photographer must respect the mood, become integrated into the environment, avoid all the tricks that destroy human truth, and also make the subject of the photo forget the camera and the person using it. Complicated equipment and lights get in the way of naïve, unposed subjects. What is more fleeting than the expression on a face?
What is photojournalism? Occasionally, a very unique photo, in which form is precise and rich enough and content has enough resonance, is sufficient in itself - but that's rarely the case. The elements of a subject that speak to us are often scattered and can't be captured in one photo; we don't have the right to force them together, and to stage them would be cheating... which brings us to the need for photojournalism.
To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event, as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression. I believe that through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds- the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate. But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean the rigorous organisation of the interplay of surfaces, lines and values. It is in this organisation alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organisation can stem only from a developed instinct.
'Manufactured' or staged photography does not concern me. And if I make a judgment, it can only be on a psychological or sociological level. There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out to discover the image and seize it. For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which - in visual terms - questions and decides simultaneously. In order to "give a meaning" to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what he frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photos with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself.
Photo-reporting presents the essentials of a problem, or it records an event or impressions. An event is so rich in possibilities that you hover around while it develops. You hunt for the solution. Sometimes you find it in the fraction of a second; sometimes it takes hours, or even days. There is no standard solution, no recipe; you must be alert, as in the game of tennis.
There is one domain which photography has won away from painting – or so it is claimed – and that is portraiture. Faced with the camera, people proffer their best “profile” to posterity. It is their hope, blended with a certain magic fear, to outlive themselves in this portrait, and here they give us a hold. The first impression we have of a face is frequently correct; if to this first impression others are added by further acquaintance, the better we know the person the harder it becomes to pick out the essential qualities. One of the touching features of portraiture is that it reveals the permanence of mankind, even if only in the family album. We must respect the surroundings which provide the subject’s true setting, while avoiding all artifice which destroys the authentic image. The mere presence of the photographer and his camera affects the behavior of the “victim”. Massive apparatus and flash bulbs prevent the subject from being himself.
Photography, being dependent on reality, raises plastic problems which must be solved by the use of our eyes and by the adjustment of our camera. We keep changing our perspective in continual movement governed by rapid reflexes. We compose almost at the moment of pressing the shutter, moving through minutiae of space and time. Sometimes one remains motionless, waiting for something to happen; sometimes the situation is resolved and there is nothing to photograph.
Our job is immensely dependent on contacts with people; one false word and they withdraw. Here again, there is no set system, unless it be to pass unnoticed, together with one’s camera, which is always conspicuous. Reactions differ enormously between countries and between social groups; anywhere in the East, for example, a photographer who is impatient or merely in a hurry covers himself with ridicule, and this is irremediable. If ever you lose contact and someone notices your camera, you might just as well forget photography and let children clamber around you.
Chemistry, physics, and optics enlarge our scope; it is for us to apply them as part of our technique in order to see whether they can add to what we wish to express. But a whole fetishism has grown up around the technique of photography. Technique should be so conceived and adapted as to induce a way of seeing things, preferably in essentials, excluding the effects of gratuitous virtuosity and other ineptitudes. Technique is important in that we have to master it, but it is the result that counts.
The camera enables us to keep a kind of visual record. We photo-reporters are people who supply information to a world in haste and swamped, willy-nilly, in a morass of printed matter. This abbreviation of the statement which is the language of photography is very potent; we express, in effect, an adjudgment of what we see, and this demands intellectual honesty. We work in terms of reality, not of fiction, and must therefore “discover”, not fabricate.
Photography as I conceive it, well, it’s a drawing. Immediate sketch, done with intuition and you can correct it. If you have to correct it, it’s with the next picture. But life is very fluid; sometimes the pictures disappear, and there’s nothing you can do. You can’t tel the person, ‘Oh, please smile again. Do that gesture again.’ Life is once, forever and new all the time.
Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant. We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory.
The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. It's a question mark you put on somebody. Trying to say, "Who is it? What does it amount to? What is the significance of that face?" The difference between a portrait and a snapshot is that in the portrait, the person has agreed to be photographed. I like to take pictures of people in their environment—the animal in its habitat. It is fascinating coming into people's homes, looking at them. But you have to be like a cat. Not disturb. On tiptoes, always on tiptoes. It's like a biologist and his microscope. When you study the thing, it doesn't react the same way as when it is not being studied. And you have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt, which is not an easy thing.
What actually is a photographic reportage, a picture story? Sometimes there is one unique picture whose composition possesses such vigour and richness, and whose content so radiates outward from it, that this single picture is a whole story in itself. But this rarely happens. The elements which, together, can strike sparks out of a subject, are often scattered—either in terms of space or time—and bringing them together by force is "stage management” and, I feel, cheating. But if it is possible to make pictures of the "core" as well as the struck-off sparks of the subject, this is a picture story; and the page serves to reunite the complementary elements which are dispersed throughout several photographs.