The photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative. By their fewness, and by the importance of the reader’s eye, this will be misunderstood by most of that minority which does not wholly ignore it. In the interests, however, of the history and future of photography, that risk seems irrelevant, and this flat statement necessary.
With the camera, it's all or nothing. You either get what you're after at once, or what you do has to be worthless. I don't think the essence of photography has the hand in it so much. The essence is done very quietly with a flash of the mind, and with a machine. I think too that photography is editing, editing after the taking. After knowing what to take, you have to do the editing.
You talk about simplicity. When I first made photographs, they were too plain to be considered art and I wasn't considered an artist. I didn't get any attention at all. The people who looked at my work thought, well, that's just a snapshot of the backyard. Privately I knew otherwise and through stubbornness stayed with it...
I began to wonder – I knew I was an artist or wanted to be one – but I was wondering whether I really was an artist. I was doing such ordinary things that I could feel the difference. Most people would look at those things and say, “Well, that’s nothing. What did you do that for? That’s just a wreck of a car or a wreck of a man. That’s nothing. That isn’t art.” They don’t say that anymore.
Photography seems to be the most literary of the graphic arts. It will have—on occasion and in effect—qualities of eloquence, wit, grace, and economy; style, of course; structure and coherence; paradox and play and oxymoron. If photography tends to be literary, conversely some writers are noticeably photographic from time to time—for instance James, and Joyce, and particularly Nabokov.
Detachment, lack of sentimentality, originality, a lot of things that sound rather empty. I know what they mean. Let’s say, "visual impact" may not mean much to anybody. I could point it out though. I mean it’s a quality that something has or does not have. Coherence. Well, some things are weak, some things are strong...
If you photograph what’s before your eyes and you’re in an impoverished environment, you’re not—and shouldn’t be, I think—trying to change the world or commenting on this and saying: “Open up your heart and bleed for these people.” I would never dream of saying anything like that; it’s too presumptuous and naïve to think you can change society by a photograph or anything.