To produce an intimate likeness rather than a banal portrait, the result of mere chance, you must put yourself at once in communion with the sitter, size up his thoughts and his very character.
But do not all these miracles [the steam engine, the electric light, the telephone, the phonograph, the radio, bacteriology, anesthesiology, psychophysiology] pale when compared to the most astonishing and disturbing one of all, that one which seems finally to endow man himself with the divine power of creation: the power to give physical form to the insubstantial image that vanishes as soon as it is perceived, leaving no shadow in the mirror, no ripple on the surface of the water? (1900)
As for the portrait, it is time to have done with the reproach that the photographer cannot convey so well as the painter the intimate and artistic feeling of his sitter. The photograph takes the law into its own hands. Psychological insight is not reserved for painters alone and they know it.
Photography is a marvelous discovery, a science that has attracted the greatest intellects, and art that excites the most astute minds—and one that can be practiced by any imbecile.
According to Balzac’s theory, all physical bodies are made up entirely of layers of ghostlike images, an infinite number of leaflike skins laid on top of one another. Since Balzac believed man was incapable of making something material from an apparition—that is, creating something from nothing—he concluded that every time someone had his photograph taken, one of the spectral layers was removed from the body and transferred to the photograph. Repeated exposures entailed the unavoidable loss of subsequent ghostly layers, that is, the very essence of life.
There is no such a thing as artistic photography. In photography, like in all things, there are people who can see and others who cannot even look.
The theory of photography can be taught in an hour, preliminary technical notions in a day... What cannot be taught is the moral intelligence of the subject, or the instinctive tact that puts you in touch with the model, allowing you to size them up and to steer them toward their habits, their ideas, according to each person's character. This enables you to offer something more than the ordinary, accidental plastic reproduction that the humblest laboratory assistant could manage. It enables you to achieve the most familiar, the most positive resemblance: a speaking likeness. This is the psychological side of photography. I don’t think that is too ambitious a term.
The church has always shown itself cool toward innovators—when she wasn’t being a little too warm towards them—and the discovery of [photography] had doubtful attractions to the lord of all. This mystery smacks of the devil at his spells and stinks of the stake: the heavenly roasting spit has been warmed up for much less… The night, dear to sorcerers, reigned alone in the murky depths of the camera obscura, the chosen place appointed for the Prince of Darkness. (1857)
A bygone maker of caricatures, a draftsman without knowing it, an impertinent fisher of bylines in the little newspapers, mediocre author of disdained novels... and finally refugee in the Botany Bay of photography.
People were stunned when they heard that two inventors had perfected a process that could capture an image on a silver plate. It is impossible for us to imagine today the universal confusion that greeted this invention, so accustomed have we become to the fact of photography and so inured are we by now to its vulgarization.