Some Ideas About Photography


You see someone on the street, and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw.

            — Dianne Arbus


The photograph as such and the object itself share a common being, after the fashion of a fingerprint. 

            — André Bazin


The camera introduces us to unconscious optics. 

             -- Walter Benjamin

"The art of photography would bear two birthmarks of the modern age, instantaneity and multiplicity."

             -- Daniel Boorstin

To photograph:  the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.

             -- Henri Carrier-Bresson

Taken from an observation by Cardinal de Retz (1614-1679) in his memoirs:  "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.”


 There is something in the very language of photography — taking a picture, capturing a subject — that lends itself to the idea that the image partakes of the life of what it represents. 

If we see a drawing or a painting of ourselves that we don’t like, we can dismiss it as the product of the artist’s faulty technique. But when we see unflattering photographs of ourselves, we resent the implication that we are somehow “like that.” Perhaps we secretly agree with Goethe that  “All that is outside, also is inside.” And again: “Everything that is, symbolizes."

              — Bayard Coll           


An instantaneous photograph could not distinguish a living animal from a dead.

            — R.G. Collingwood


Photography describes everything and explains nothing.

            — Honoré Daumier


The two images, that of the sitter and that of the photo portraitist, are locked in a silent wrestle of imaginations until they are thrust apart by the click of the shutter.  At that moment the issue is resolved, but not necessarily in favor of either of the contestants.

            — Harold Rosenberg


The ultimate wisdom of the photographed image is to say: "There is the surface.  Now think — or, rather, feel, intuit — what is beyond it."  Strictly speaking, there is never any understanding in a photograph, but only an invitation to fantasy and speculation.

            — Susan Sontag


It is doubtful that a photograph can help us understand anything.  A photograph of the Krupp [munitions] factory, as Brecht points out, tells us little about this institution.  The "reality" of the world is not in its images, but in its functions.  Functioning takes place in time, and must be explained in time.  Only that which narrates can make us understand.

            — Susan Sontag


I am no longer trying to "express myself," to impose my own personality on nature, but without prejudice, without falsification, to become identified with nature, sublimating things seen into things known — their very essence — so that what I record is not an interpretation, my idea of what nature should be, but a revelation — an absolute, impersonal recognition of the significance of facts.

            — Edward Weston


Whitman’s remarks seem applicable to the role of photography in our time:

Whatever may have been the case in years gone by, the true use for the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to science, and to common lives, endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing and to real things only.

            — Walt Whitman