I Wish I’d Said That: My All-Time Favorite Quotes

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

The statement seems disarmingly simple, especially when we discover it comes from Ansel Adams, arguably the greatest landscape photographer of the 20th century. Rudimentary on its surface but burgeoning with truth, it offers a glimpse into the mind of a photographic genius.

Photography’s relatively brief history has provided ample time for extraordinary people to advance the craft and elevate the art form. Many of these early masters expressed themselves with equal eloquence, both visually and verbally. Books, essays and interviews articulating their thoughts on photography aid those of us seeking deeper interpretation of the medium.

These writings — sometimes earnest, sometimes humorous, but always perceptive — reveal the muses of photography’s top practitioners and bring a modicum of perspective to their larger-than-life personas. From these writings, philosophical nuggets emerge as stand-alone quotations that pack a lot of weight in their brevity.

Sage photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose work embodies the “decisive moment,” died in 2004 just three weeks shy of his 96th birthday. His photographic observations of the human landscape reinvented photojournalism in a style with the gravity of art. And he expressed incisive views on photography with fluency. Cartier-Bresson, whose photographs often captured the softened blur of his subjects in motion, penned one of my favorite quotes: “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

Photography quotes abound. Googling the term turns up dozens of Web sites devoted to the equivalent of the TV sound bite from photography’s most illustrious personalities. In an economy of words, these poignant vignettes shine insightful light on the sphere of photography.

Following are a few discerning quotes, evidence there’s a lot more going on in photographers’ heads than just f-stops and shutter speeds:

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” — Dorothea Lange

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” — Imogen Cunningham

“There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.” — Robert Heinecken

“Now, to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravity before going for a walk.” — Edward Weston

“Film is cheaper than opportunity.” — Steve Silberman

“I find the single most valuable tool in the darkroom is my trash can.” — John Sexton

“We are in a privileged and sometimes happy position. We see a great deal of the world. Our obligation is to pass it on to others.” –Margaret Bourke-White

“I see something special and show it to the camera. A picture is produced. The moment is held until someone sees it. Then it is theirs.” –Sam Abell

“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer — and often the supreme disappointment.” — Ansel Adams

“Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if…’ And then do it.” — Duane Michals

“I think all art is about control—the encounter between control and the uncontrollable.” — Richard Avedon

“Maybe the judgment of whether something is art or not should come from the viewer and not the doer.” — Alan Babbitt

“Hardening of the categories causes art disease.” — W. Eugene Smith

“If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.” — Lewis Hine

“Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects. The object is nothing; light is everything.” — Leonard Misonne

“Ultimately, simplicity is the goal in every art, and achieving simplicity is one of the hardest things to do. Yet it’s easily the most essential.” — Pete Turner

“The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.” — Ansel Adams

“If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you’re not out there, you’ll only hear about it.” — Jay Maisel

And finally, there’s Garry Winogrand, who, when asked how he felt about missing photographs while he reloaded film in his camera, replied, “There are no photographs while I’m reloading.”

I wish I’d said that.

[tags]Peter Ensenberger, photographers, photography quotations[/tags]

Leave a Reply