[Photographer, editor, and critic, b. 1934, New York, lives in New York.]
A Ming vase can be well-designed and well-made and is beautiful for that reason alone. I don’t think this can be true for photography. Unless there is something a little incomplete and a little strange, it will simply look like a copy of something pretty. We won’t take an interest in it.
Usually I think if there is something imperfect in a photograph it makes the picture more real. Photographs that are slick, smooth, and perfect seem less honest to me.
Working alone on stories, I began to feel the anonymity of motels on interstate highways reached by jet planes and rental cars. It was hard to have a good time, and the only way I could make the loneliness excusable was by taking pictures I thought were very good, even valuable.
When I teach a class I often give the assignment: “Photograph someone you love.” I ask people to do this so they have a subject about whom they have feelings, a subject that is more than a model, or an object, or a shape, or an idea. In this way, they can judge the result not only by its technical success, but also by how well it describes their feelings.
Often the tension that exists between the pictorial content of a photograph and its record of reality is the picture’s true beauty.
To understand photographs, I believe you have to understand that the camera just shows what it shows. Photography may be moving, exciting, compassionate, or clever. But the camera cannot lie. Neither can a slide rule, a balance. If you want to lie, you have to do it with words.
In my head I think, “There is a beautiful picture here and by God, short of murder, I’m going to get it. So shut up and hold still!” But what I say is: “You look wonderful. It’ll just take a minute. It’s marvelous. We’re doing something very special.”
If I’m close on the face, expression doesn’t exist. The face becomes a landscape of the lakes of the eyes and the hills of the nose.