To speak technically photography is the art of writing with light. But if I want to think about it more philosophically, I can say that photography is the art of writing with time. When you capture an image you capture not only a piece of space, you also capture a piece of time. So you have this piece of specific time in your square or rectangle. In that sense I find that photography has more to do with time than with light.
Photography is to the layman perhaps the most enticing art. As a buff and a follower, at a respectful distance, I find myself like others, having the heart of a Steiglitz with hands that sometimes seem impeded by boxing gloves. What is exasperating is that one can feel closer to managing the skills of photography than most other arts, and yet be a long hop, skip and delusional way from it.
To us, the difference between the photographer as an individual eye and the photographer as an objective recorder seems fundamental, the difference often regarded, mistakenly, as separating photography as art from photography as document. But both are logical extensions of what photography means: note-taking on, potentially, everything in the world, from every possible angle.
The whole question of success and failure [in photography] resolves itself into an investigation of the capacities of the machine and well may we be satisfied with the rich gifts it bestows, without straining it into a competition with art. For everything for which art, so-called, has hitherto been the means but no the end, photography is the allotted agent – for all that requires mere manual correctness, and mere manual slavery, without any employment of the artistic feeling, she is the proper and therefore the perfect medium. She is made for the present age in which the desire for art resides in a small minority, but the craving, or rather necessity for cheap, prompt, and correct facts in the public at large. Photography is the purveyor of such knowledge to the world. She is sworn witness of everything presented to her view.
Photography is an adventure just as life is an adventure. If a man wishes to express himself photographically, he must understand, surely to a certain extent, his relationship to life. I am interested in relating the problems that affect me to some set of values that I am trying to discover and establish as being my life. I want to discover and establish them through photography.
The traditional difficulty of balancing the mechanical with the imaginative schools of photography still operates. In schools of photography meaningful art education is often lacking and on the strength of their technical ability alone students, deprived of a richer artistic training, are sent forth inculcated with the belief that they are creative photographers and artists. It is yet a fact that today, as in the past, the most inspiring and provocative works in photography come as much (and probably more) from those who are in the first place artists.
Has it led you to the conclusion that photography is an art ? Or it is simply a means of recording ? “I’m glad you asked that. I’ve been wanting to say this for years. Is cooking an art ? Is talking an art ? Is even painting an art ? It is artfulness that makes art, not the medium itself. Of course photography is an art – when it is in the hands of artists.”
Traditionally, photography has dealt with recording the world as it is found. Before photography appeared the fine artists of the time, the painters and sculptors, concerned themselves with rendering reality with as much likeness as their skill enabled. Photography, however, made artistic reality much more available, more quickly and on a much broader scale.
One of the leading uses of photography by the mass media came to be called photojournalism. From the late ‘twenties’ to the early ‘fifties’ what might have been the golden age of this speciality – photographers worked largely as the possessors of special and arcane skills, like the ancient priests who practiced and monopolized the skills of pictography or carving or manuscript illumination. In those halcyon days the photographer enjoyed a privileged status.
Ethics are indeispensable to me. I need a framework to my life, with values I hold dear.
I like honesty in the broades sense: keeping one's word, acting responsible, being accountable... Simple principles, really pretty basic stuff, but crucial.
In the eigthies particulary, photography was a fairly easy profession, fairly exciting too in so far as getting published was no big deal, and you could earn money from it... Hence the risk of dubious behaviour.
Since I've been in this trade, I have tried my best to be honest, to be respectful of those I photograph and I remain true to those I work with. (For instance, I have stayed with the same two publishers for the last twenty five years.)
The trust we build over the years if of tremendous help to me when I start in a new project and need to find associates.
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.
I genuinely believe photography to be at it's most potent when underscored by truth. To contrive is to control, and frankly I'm more interested in observation than direction. Riding the ebb and flow of Sydney's streets, approaching the next corner afresh, never quite knowing what may present itself in the adjoining street. That's the random beauty of street photography. Control has to be a stultifying, creative break. The magic, emotion charged moments are in my experience invariably captured us.
Different levels of photography require different levels of understanding and skill. A “press the button, let George do the rest” photographer needs little or no technical knowledge of photography. A zone system photographer takes more responsibility. He visualizes before he presses the button, and afterwards calibrates for predictable print values.
I believe that the chief value of photography as a means of communication depends entirely on the ability of the camera to arrest life instantly. It thrills me to speculate how the invention of photography has contributed to the speeding up of human reflexes. The rapidly working camera has sharpened man’s capacity to observe and observe rapidly; it has taught many of us to use our minds to classify visual phenomena in an instant of time; to relate our own attitude to that of the person in front of the camera in a split second. This to my mind is the essence of photojournalism.
Only recently serious research into the relationship between photography and art has taken place. Why has it been so long in coming ? “In some respects historical research is analogous with that of science. The bringing to light of factual material and the development of ideas is to a large extent cumulative.[…] But when artists themselves were, from about 1910, beginning to tear down the bastions protecting Art in its ivory tower, questioning the idea of Art with a capital ‘A’, photography was inevitably to assume a new stature both in the eyes of artists and the public, too."
To be able to see in concrete terms what was created in a fraction of a second is a rare luxury. Even though fixed in time, a photograph evokes as much feeling as that which comes from music or dance. Whatever the mode – from the snapshot to the decisive moment to multi-media montage – the intent and purpose of photography is to render in visual terms feelings and experiences that often elude the ability of words to describe. In any case, the eyes have it, and the imagination will always soar farther than was expected.