[Photographer and political activist, b. 1896, Undine, Italy, d. 1942, Mexico City.]
Always, when the words “art” and “artistic” are applied to my photographic work, I am disagreeably affected. This is due, surely, to the bad use and abuse made of those terms. I consider myself a photographer, nothing more. If my photographs differ from that which is usually done in this field, it is precisely because I try to produce not art but honest photographs, without distortions or manipulations.
I cannot, as you [Edward Weston] once proposed to me—“solve the problem of life by losing myself in the problem of art”... in my case, life is always struggling to predominate and art naturally suffers.
I know that the materials found on the streets is rich and wonderful, but my experience is that the way I am accustomed to work, slowly planning my composition etc. is not suited for such work. By the time I have the composition or expression right, the picture is gone. I guess I want to do the impossible and therefore I do nothing.
... I just feel impotent—I don’t know which way to start or turn. You know what they say about a prophet in one’s own country—well—in a way it works for me too: you see—this might be called my home town—well of all the old friends and acquaintances not one takes me seriously as a photographer—not one has asked me to show my work... (On returning to San Francisco)
To know whether photography is or is not an art matters little. What is important is to distinguish between good and bad photography. By good is meant that photography which accepts all the limitations inherent in photographic technique and takes advantage of the possibilities and characteristics the medium offers. By bad photography is mean that which is done, one may say, with a kind of inferiority complex, with no appreciation of what photography itself offers: but on the contrary, recurring to all sorts of imitations.
Photography, precisely because it can only be produced in the present and because it is based on what exists objectively before the camera, takes its place as the most satisfactory medium for registering objective life in all its aspects, and from this comes its documental value. If to this is added sensibility and understanding and, above all, a clear orientation as to the place it should have in the field of historical development, I believe that the result is something worthy of a place in social production, to which we should all contribute.
The majority of photographers still seek “artistic” effects, imitating other mediums of graphic expression. The result is a hybrid product that does not succeed in giving their work the most valuable characteristic it should have, —photographic quality.