The word beauty is unavoidable … it accounts for my decision to photograph … There appeared a quality, beauty seemed the only appropriate word for it, in certain photographs, and I am compelled to live with the vocabulary of this new sight … through over many years [I] still find it embarrassing to use the word beauty, I fear I will be attacked for it, but I still believe in it.
One does not for long westle a view camera in the wind and heat and cold just to illustrate a philosophy. The thing that keeps you scrambling over the rocks, risking snakes, and swatting at the flies is the view. It is only your enjoyment of and commitment to what you see, not to what you rationally understand, that balances the otherwise absurd investment of labor.
Part of the difficulty in trying to be both an artist and a businessperson is this: You make a picture because you have seen something beyond price; then you are to turn and assign to your record of it a cash value. If the selling is not necessarily a contradiction of the truth in the picture, it is so close to being a contradiction—and the truth is always in shades of gray--that you are worn down by the threat.
...the only things that distinguish the photographer from everybody else are his pictures: they alone are the basis for our special interest in him. If pictures cannot be understood without knowing details of the artist's private life, then that is a reason for faulting them; major art, by definition, can stand independent of its maker.
By Interstate 70: a dog skeleton, a vacuum cleaner, TV dinners, a doll, a pie, rolls of carpet....Later, next to the South Platte River: algae, broken concrete, jet contrails, the smell of crude oil.... What I hope to document, though not at the expense of surface detail, is the form that underlies this apparent chaos.
At our best and most fortunate we make pictures because of what stands before our camera, to honor what is greater and more interesting than we are. We never accomplish this perfectly, though in return we are given something perfect--a sense of inclusion. Our subject thus redefines us, and is part of the biography by which we want to be known.
Why do most great pictures look uncontrived? Why do photographers bother with the deception, especially since it so often requires the hardest work of all? The answer is, I think, that the deception is necessary if the goal of art is to be reached: only pictures that look as if they had been easily made can convincingly suggest that beauty is commonplace.
Photographers who can teach us to love even vacant lots will do so out of the same sense of wholeness that inspired the wilderness photographers of the last twenty-five years (the deepest joy possible in wilderness is, most would agree, the mysterious realization of one’s alliance with it). Beauty, Coleridge wrote, is based in “the unity of the manifold, the coalescence of the diverse.” In this large sense, beautiful photographs of contemporary America will lead us out into daily life by giving us a new understanding of and tolerance for what previously seemed only anarchic and threatening.
Landscape photography can offer us, I think, three verities—geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together... the three kinds of representation strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact—an affection for life
It is not legitimate to dislike Marianne Moore’s poetry because she wore crazy clothes or William Faulkner’s novels because he drank too much, and it is not particularly germane to attack a photograph because the person who made it worked for Life magazine or a university, was or was not a socialist, did or did not like Minor White, and so on.
Over and over again the photographer walks a few steps and peers, rather comically, into the camera; to the exasperation of family and friends, he inventories what seems an endless number of angles; he explains, if asked, that he is trying for effective composition, but hesitates to define it. What he means is that a photographer wants form, an unarguably right relationship of shapes, a visual stability in which all components are equally important. The photographer hopes, in brief, to discover a tension so exact that it is peace.
Part of the reason that these attempts at explanation fail, I think, is that photographers, like all artists, choose their medium because it allows them the most fully truthful expression of their vision... as Robert Frost told a person who asked him what one of his poems meant, 'You want me to say it worse?