A man can watch half an hour of television and think that he's seen a civil war in Africa, the disappearing rain forests in the Amazon and genocide in Bosnia. In truth, he hasn't seen a thing. In truth, he was seated in his armchair and saw images that were presented, accelerated, slowed down and mediated by someone else. You can't learn anything passively. (...) What about still images? Can't they be just as manipulative? No, because they work at a subjective rhythm. You react to a photograph according to your own tempo. A photograph permits a first viewing, and then an individual reflection. It solicits participation, and encourages individuality in interpretation. Television is an autarchy, a dictatorship.
Because each photograph is only a fragment, its moral and emotional weight depends on where it is inserted. A photograph changes according to the context in which it is seen: thus Smith’s Minamata photographs will seem different on a contact sheet, in a gallery, in a political demonstration, in a police file, in a photographic magazine, in a book, on a living-room wall. Each o these situations suggest a different use for the photographs but none can secure their meaning.
Knowing a great deal about what is in the world (art, catastrophe, the beauties of nature) through photographic images, people are frequently disappointed, surprised, unmoved when the see the real thing. For photographic images tend to subtract feeling from something we experience at first hand and the feelings they do arouse are, largely, not those we have in real life. Often something disturbs us more in photographed form than it does when we actually experience it.
What is a good photograph? I cannot say. A photograph is tied to the time, what is good today may be a cliché tomorrow. The problem of the photographer is to discover his own language, a visual ABC. The picture represents the feelings and point of view of the intelligence behind the camera. This disease of our age is boredom and a good photographer must combat it. The way to do this is by invention – by surprise. When I say a good picture has surprise value I mean that it stimulates my thinking and intrigues me. The best way to achieve surprise quality is by avoiding clichés. Imitation is the greatest danger of the young photographer.
Photographers learn to interpret photographs in that technical way because they want to understand and use that ‘language’ themselves (just as musicians learn a more technical musical language than the layman needs). Social scientists who want to work with visual materials will have to learn to approach them in this more studious and time-consuming way.
Literally, no man ever sees himself as others see him. No photograph or reflection ever gives us the same slant on ourselves that others see. It has often been proved on the witness stand that no two people ever see the same accident precisely the same way. We see through different eyes and from different angles. But if we could see things as other people see them, we could come closer to knowing why they do what they do and why they say what they say.
I've come to realize that I'm a image maker, not an object maker. Images come to me as photographs because I don't have any other way of express them. I have to translate everything into still or moving pictures. I've learned that reality is not important to me. In the end it is the representation of reality that I'm striving to capture.
I photograph continuously, often without a good idea or strong feelings. During this time the photos are nearly all poor, but I believe they develop my seeing and help later on in other photos. I do believe strongly in photography and hope by following it intuitively that when the photographs are looked at they will touch the spirit in people.
It is not reality that photographs make immediately accessible, but images. For example, now all adults can know exactly how they and their parents and grandparents looked as children – a knowledge not available to anyone before the invention of cameras, not even to that tine minority among whom it was customary to commission paintings of their children. Most of these portraits were less informative than any snapshot. And even the very wealthy usually owned just one portrait of themselves or any of their forebears as children, that is, image of one moment of childhood, whereas it is common to have many photographs of oneself, the camera offering the possibility of possessing a complete record, at all ages.
(...) Although there a sense which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as painting and drawings are. Those occasions when the taking of photographs is relatively undiscriminating, promiscuous, or self-effacing do not lessen the didacticism of the whole enterprise.
At best there are two vital areas in which the ‘straight’ photograph is still relevant: journalistic/technologic/scientific and pornographic. The first carries with it a certain amount of fascination of exoticism and the inapproachability of its subject material. The latter contains its own fascination, only it is one of strictly mentalized approachability. The problem with both types of photography, however, is the constant need for replenishment and renewal.
Every part of the photographic image carries some information that contributes to its total statement; the viewer’s responsibility is to see, in the most literal way, everything that is there and respond to it. To put it another way, the statement the image makes – not just what it show you, but the mood, moral evaluation and casual connections it suggest – is built up from those details. A proper ‘reading’ of a photograph sees and responds to them consciously.
Gardening can bring out the inner child, and sometimes, especially after all that time out in the hot sun, it can bring out the inner surrealist. When the urge comes over you to construct a zucchini zeppelin or a tomato truck, give in to your muse and then document [photograph] your masterpiece, preferably against an uncluttered background.
To shoot poignant pictures we only need follow the path of our enthusiasm . I believe that this feeling is the universe's way of telling us that we are doing the right thing. The viewing public will always disagree over the intrinsic merits of a particular photograph, but no one can deny the enthusiasm that originally inspired us to capture and offer that image to others.