You know, he (Winogrand) set a tempo on the street so strong that it was impossible not to follow it. It was like jazz. You just had to get in the same groove... You know, if you hesitate, forget it. You don't have to learn to unleash that. It was like having a hair trigger. Sometimes walking down the street, wanting to make a picture, I would be so anticipatory, so anxious, that I would just have to fire the camera, to let fly a picture, in order to release the energy, so that I could recock it. That's what you got from Garry. It came off him in waves - to be keyed up, eager, excited for pictures in that way.
'Tough' meant it was an uncompromising image, something that came from your gut, out of instinct, raw, of the moment, something that couldn’t be described in any other way. So it was tough. Tough to like, tough to see, tough to make, tough to understand. The tougher they were the more beautiful they became.
What I think is so extraordinary about the photograph is that we have a piece of paper with this image adhered to it, etched on it, which interposes itself into the plane of time that we are actually in at that moment. Even if it comes from as far back as 150 years ago, or as recently as yesterday, or a minute before as a Polaroid color photograph, suddenly you bring it into your experience. You look at it, and all around the real world is humming, buzzing and moving, and yet in this little frame there is stillness that looks like the world. That connection, that collision, that interfacing, is one of the most astonishing things we can experience.
What is the art experience about? Really, I'm not interested in making "Art" at all. I never, ever, think about it. To say the word "Art", it's almost like a curse on art. I do know that I want to try to get closer to myself. The older I get, the more indications I have about what it is to get closer to yourself. You try less hard. I just want to be.
I find it strangely beautiful that the camera with its inherent clarity of object and detail can produce images that in spite of themselves offer possibilities to be more than they are ... a photograph of nothing very important at all, nothing but an intuition, a response, a twitch from the photographer’s experience.
For a street photographer like myself, randomness is everything, because that’s one thing the world has in abundance, and I am just passing through it with my snare. My camera is a snare. I can throw this sieve out there and I can capture things in it. And risking that gesture all the time is part of the joy of seeing, because I don't have to stretch a canvas, I don’t have to mix the paints, I don’t have to light the studio. I walk around in the world, which is bombarding me with sensations all the time.
I want to enjoy the languor of just living, recognizing, acknowledging, taking it in, sort of amplifying it in some way. [Photography] is a great medium for that. It happens in an instant, but it gives you hours or days of time to reflect on things. It’s a beautiful system, this game of photography, to see in an instant and go back and think about later on. It’s pure philosophy. And poetry.
There are so many ways of slicing that question, but I think what we’ve seen from the history of photography is that a good photograph often reveals something of the photographer’s interiority. You learn something about the photographer's wit, their timing, or their vision — how they were able to seize the unexpected moment and make something substantial out of it like meaning, poetry, beauty, or tragedy.
A lot of photographs start in the middle. People tend to use a bull's-eye approach when making pictures, particularly amateurs who don’t have a lot of experience. They want to hit the target. But as their eye becomes more sophisticated, they begin to see that the picture frame itself is this beautiful powerhouse that can be filled with information. If a picture can transcend all of the stuff in it, so that the photographer disappears and the photographer’s effort and tricks fade away, then people can enter the picture and enjoy the experience of an interesting photograph. I don’t know about what makes a picture good or bad, but for me the first entry into a picture is the thought, Oh, this is interesting. Just like life, in a way.
Well, shooting on the street is a slippery practice, one learns to be invisible, to try to be present and in the right place at the right time, before people get a sense of your being there to photograph them. And I really developed this kind of invisibility for many years. But then I found myself walking around with this wide-lens wooden camera, which stood a meter and a half tall on a tripod: suddenly, people saw me, and my cloak of invisibility was gone.
In art photography, there was still this huge prejudice against colour as if only black and white were aesthetically justifiable. I never bought that: for me colour is essential; I instinctively felt I needed it to give my work force. Just as we have smell memories, we have colour memories. I mean the world is in colour, right?
They [photographs] teach you about your own unraveling past, or about the immediacy of yesterday. They show you what you look at. If you take a photograph, you've been responsive to someting, and you looked hard at it. Hard for a thousandth of a second, hard for ten minutes. But hard, nonetheless. And it's the quality of that bite that teaches you how connected you were to that thing, and where you stood in relation to it, then and now.
I think about photographs as being full, or empty. You picture something in a frame and it's got lots of accounting going on in it--stones and buildings and trees and air--but that's not what fills up a frame. You fill up the frame with feelings, energy, discovery, and risk, and leave room enough for someone else to get in there.
I have been asked so many times: "How do you know when to take a photograph?"
And I remember walking through Paris, and just walking down the street and suddenly smell baking croissants on the air, butter and sugar.
and you oh, and you immediately - you want a corssoiante or a cookie or something right? And then you take two steps and it is gone!
So in the air, on the street was this little zone, for a moment, where the fragance was so rich and compelling...
To me, that is what photography is:
you walk along the street and something happens, and you get it
it is a visual that is as precise as that fragance that is only in the air of the doorway.
On the street each successive wave brings a whole new cast of characters, You take wave after wave, you bathe in it. There is something exciting about being in the crowd, in all that chance and change—its tough out there—but if you can keep paying attention something will reveal itself—just a split second—and then there’s a crazy cockeyed picture.
We all experience it. Those moments when we gasp and say, “Oh, look at that.” Maybe it’s nothing more than the way a shadow glides across a face, but in that split second, when you realize something truly remarkable is happening and disappearing right in front of you, if you can pass a camera before your eye, you’ll tear a piece of time out of the whole, and in a breath, rescue it and give it new meaning.
I think most of us go through our lives partially asleep. Even though our eyes are open and we're out in the world, we're daydreaming or we're distracted in some way. But when I make a photograph of something, at that moment I feel in a very precise, conscious, alert, awakened state, even if it's only for a split-second. And for me that's the joy of photography: to be connected to things in the world that are suddenly of conscious value.
There are a billion people on the planet carrying around a phone every day and they’re making all kinds of pictures. Most of these pictures are center weighted and familiar-looking pictures, but every once in a while someone is caught off guard by taking a picture that has incredible characteristics and qualities. They may look at it themselves and say, “Wow, I did that? I would like to improve my game.” It’s for those people that I wanted to make this book [How I Make Photographs]. This book is like a giveaway of everything I know. I don't have any secrets to hold on to. I feel that this is what you have to do as an artist — give away everything you learned and allow people to make something out of it on their own.
For me, maybe because I came from an art history background, I kept asking questions of photography — like what other ideas can a photograph encapsulate? I’ve always thought about photography as being about ideas. Yes, a photograph can look like a picture, but really in it is the organic power of an idea about something, whether it’s about space, light, time, or the interrelationships between disconnected things. A 35mm picture is just a rectangle and everybody has the same space to work with, but what you can invent and come up with within that space is how you develop.
Well, like a game, you get better and better at being in the right place at the right time, and at making the pictures that are coming out of your consciousness. You begin to perform at this level that’s very appealing and satisfying. But I think there comes a time for everybody, where there's a choice: Do you want to continue on this plane, or have you been sustained enough by it to risk asking the question of, “What else is there for me to see and discover in photography?” In order for you to answer it, you have to let go of something. And usually it’s the thing that you're doing well at that moment. It's a courageous step into the unknown, but really, you are well prepared, with everything that you've learned. All of the layers of learning over the years are there, built into your larger response to the world. So it's your duty to yourself, to say, “Okay, I'm going to take a risk and see if I can push the medium and my behaviour out beyond the safety zone.