Famous Photography Quotes

Here you will find a collection of quotes from well know photographers, art critics, teachers, writers, and thinkers.  I agree with some, while I disagree with others.  But, they all offer an insight into the minds of some of our greatest working artists.

Robert Adams:

“If I like many photographers, and I do, I account for this by noting a quality they share – animation. They may or may not make a living by photography, but they are alive by it.”

“I have to admit that there is another reason I like photographers -- they don’t tempt me to envy. The profession is short on dignity: Nearly everyone has fallen down, been the target of condescension (the stereotypical image of a photographer being that of a mildly contemptible, self-indulgent dilettante), been harassed by security guards, and dropped expensive equipment. Almost all photographers have incurred large expenses in the pursuit of tiny audiences, finding that the wonder they’d hoped to share is something few want to receive. Nothing is so clarifying, for instance, as to stand through the opening of an exhibition to which only officials have come.”

On Documentary Style:  “When we think of pictures in the documentary style we think of views that tend to be frontal, that are made from enough distance to put the subject in context but not so far away as to reduce the scene to an abstraction of oriental planes, and pictures that are printed so that they are not difficult to retranslate back into life. There are, to be sure, as many varieties and degrees of this style as there are photographers who use it, but its distinguishing characteristic is always the same, restraint – an avoidance of bizarre camera angles, extreme lenses and formats, and exotic darkroom manipulations. The rationale is respect, a deference for the subject on its own terms, a deference afforded naturally to what is itself eloquent. The photographer’s chief effort is to be fair.”

On the Old Masters of Landscape Photography:  “Among the most compelling truths in some of the early photographs is their implication of silence.”

“Little wonder that we. . .find the old pictures of openness – pictures usually without any blur, and made by what seems a ritual of patience – wonderful. They restore to us knowledge of a place we seek but lose in the rush of our search. Though to enjoy even the pictures, much less the space itself, requires that we be still longer than is our custom.”

“Timothy O’Sullivan was, it seems to me, the greatest of the photographers because he understood nature first as architecture.”

“O’Sullivan’s western pictures are, to borrow a phrase from Roethke, the achievement of ‘a man struggling to find his proper silence.’ ”

Landscape Photography:  “The thing that keeps you scrambling over the rocks, risking snakes, and swatting at the flies is the view. It is only your enjoyment of and commitment to what you see, not to what you rationally understand, that balances the otherwise absurd investment of labor.”

Definition of Art:  “. . .art is a discovery of harmony, a vision of disparities reconciled, or shape beneath confusion.”

“Art does not in fact prove anything. What it does do is record one of those brief times, such as we each have and then each forget, when we are allowed to understand that the Creation is whole.”

X.J. Kennedy poem “Ars Poetica”:

“The goose that laid the golden egg

Died looking up its crotch

To find out how its sphincter worked.

Would you lay well? Don’t watch.”

Bill Jay:

“Evolution in action: First, God said, ‘Let there be light.’ Then, he created two nude models. Now we have photographers.”

“The best way for photographers to become rich and famous is to go into another field.”

“Photoshop makes it easier to do all the things you didn’t need to do before Photoshop.”

“Art is a snap.”

“At exhibition openings always praise the chicken for laying eggs; you can wring its neck later.”

“Ask photographers to write and they have nothing to say; ask them to talk about their work and they won’t shut up.”

“’I am a camera’ but it is a discontinued model.”

“Asked for your opinion on the prints, you have two choices: truth or tact. I ask for the bathroom.”

“A photograph is a mirror; mostly it reflects the prejudices of the viewer.”

“Why do photographers photograph? To make unreality visible.”

“I agree, intellectualism in photography is overrated. I just wish it could be replaced by common sense.”

“A few photographers make a killing; the rest can’t make a living.”

“I’d like my coffin to be a camera obscura so I can see what’s going on outside.”

“When you can’t think of anything else, photograph graffiti, nudes, or plants.”

“I start a lot of photo projects but never seem to. . . .”

“Photographers, like kids, should be seen and not heard.”

“Predators and prey always coexist. That’s why we have galleries as well as photographers.”

“Only in art can you make something that no one wants and still be considered successful."

“I was offered $100,000 for a print. Then I woke up.”

“Advice to artists: always take the opportunity to shut up.”

“A photograph is a picture and no more true or false than any other depiction; why is that so hard to comprehend?”


“Be original and develop your own style, but don’t forget above anything and everything else. . .be human. . .think. . .feel. When you find yourself beginning to feel a bond between yourself and the people you photograph, when you laugh and cry with their laughter and tears, you will know you are on the right track. . . .Good luck.”

Brooke Jensen:

“Photography must ask the great questions of life, which ultimately does not include, ‘Which camera did you use?’”

Ralph Hattersley:

"A common hang-up with photographers is the notion that they must invariably and without fail make their pictures. By this, they mean that they should never shoot something just as it is but should themselves make as many ‘contributions’ to it as possible. Only then, they say, have they the right to call their pictures their own. They do not, of course, realize that this is a neurotic point of view and that its hidden implications would show them in a very bad light."

"Until the photographer accepts his manipulation of reality for what it really is he will never arrive at full responsibility for his behavior as a photographer."

"If a person carrying a camera gives a strong impression that he belongs wherever she happens to be, people will believe him. Shy and evasive behavior invariably evokes suspicion with respect to motives."

"We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us."

Ansel Adams:

“Saint Peter was guarding the gate to Heaven, and a line was forming. The first introduced himself as a devout man of God who had lived a life of self-sacrificing service. ‘Fine,’ said Saint Peter.’ Take the 34A bus to the other side of the tracks, walk two miles into the slums and you will find a hovel that is your new home.’

The next was a nun who had ministered to the wretched and dispossessed in the most troubled war-torn areas of the world. ‘Welcome,’ said Saint Peter. ‘You take the train, the two changes on the subway and you will come to a fifth floor walkup with no heating or bathroom.’

The next in line was a bishop who had devoted himself to the dogma and ritual of the church without distraction all his life. ‘For you, we have a special place,’ said Saint Peter. ‘You will have to walk ten miles with all your possessions and build your own shack in the woods.’

Next was a shabby looking rogue. When Saint Peter say him, his eyes lit up and he embraced him warmly. ‘A chauffeur-driven limo awaits you,’ said Saint Peter. ‘It will take you to your mansion equipped with every imaginable delight.’

The Bishop overheard this greeting and remonstrated with Saint Peter. ‘But I and the others have been devoted servants of God and we are given the poorest accommodations. Why does this outcast deserve the best?’

‘Ah,’ said Saint Peter, ‘he’s very special. You see, he’s a photographer and we rarely get one of those up here.’”

“There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”

“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer -- and often the supreme disappointment.”

“We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium.”

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

“Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions. Ask yourself: "Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print -- my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey -- from the subject before me?

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

“A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.”

“There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.”

“Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

“The term accessories has come to include a host of photographic gadgets of questionable value...”
“A photograph is not an accident -- it is a concept.”

“A photograph is usually looked at -- seldom looked into.”

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

“The negative is the score, and the print the performance.”

“A photograph is not an accident -- is a concept. It exists at, or before, the moment of exposure of the negative.”

"We make images to “honor what is greater and more interesting than we are.”

"You don't take a photograph, you make it."

Matt Heron:

On Documentary Photography:

“This is -- and here is how the camera saw it

Informational -- I was there, and this is what I saw

Documentary – I saw this, and here is how I felt about it

Pictorial -- I felt this, and here is a symbol for my feelings.”

Alexander Rodchenko:

“To sum up: in order to accustom people to seeing from new viewpoints, it is essential to take photographs of everyday, familiar subjects from completely unexpected vantage points and in completely unexpected positions. New subjects should also be photographed from various points, so as to present a complete impression of the subject.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson:

The Decisive Moment:  “Above all, I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”

“But inside movement there is one moment at which the elements in motion are in balance. Photography must seize upon this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it.”

“Sometimes it happens that you stall, delay, wait for something to happen. Sometimes you have the feeling that here are all the makings of a picture -- except for just one thing that seems to be missing. But what one thing? Perhaps someone suddenly walks into your range of view. You follow his progress through the viewfinder. You wait and wait and then finally you press the button -- and you depart with the feeling (though you don’t know why) that you’ve really got something. Later, to substantiate this, you can take a print of this picture, trace on it the geometric figures which come up under analysis, and you’ll observe that, if the shutter was released at the decisive moment, you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been both formless and lifeless.”

“To me, photography is 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."

“. . . . For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean a rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines, and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct."

Cropping:  “If you start cutting or cropping a good photograph, it means death to the geometrically correct interplay of proportions. Besides, it very rarely happens that a photograph which was feebly composed can be saved by reconstruction of its composition under the darkroom’s enlarger; the integrity of vision is no longer there. There is a lot of talk about camera angles; but the only valid angles in existence are the angles of the geometry of composition and not the ones fabricated by the photographer who falls flat on his stomach or performs other antics to procure his effects."  (Aside, I do not agree with this approach.)

“We must neither try to manipulate reality while we are shooting, nor manipulate the results in the darkroom. These tricks are patently discernible to those who have eyes to see.”

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

“When the subject is in any way uneasy, the personality goes away where the camera can’t reach it.”

“If a photograph is to communicate its subject in all its intensity, the relationship of form must be rigorously established.”

“In a photograph, composition is the result of a simultaneous coalition, the organic coordination of elements seen by the eye.”

“The photographer’s eye is perpetually evaluating. A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving this head a fraction of a millimeter. He can modify perspectives by a slight bending of the knees. By placing the camera closer or farther from the subject, he draws a detail -- and it can be subordinated, or he can be tyrannized by it. But he composes a picture in very nearly the same amount of time it takes to click the shutter, at the speed of a reflex action.”

“The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks.”

“It is the photo that takes you; one must not take photos.”

"What reinforces the content of a photograph is the sense of rhythm – the relationship between shapes and values."

Minor White:

“. . .we are so conditioned to painting as the criterion of the visual aesthetic experience that the possibility of a photograph’s being another path to aesthetic experience, like a piece of sculpture or a poem, has been overlooked or not realized -- if not actually denied or pushed out of the realm of possibilities.”

“He photographs what he loves because he loves it, what he hates out of protest; the indifferent he can pass over or photograph with whatever craftsmanship of technique and composition he commands.”

“Often he passes a corner, saying to himself, ‘There is a picture here’; and if he cannot find it, considers himself the insensitive one. He can look day after day -- and one day the picture is visible! Nothing has changed except himself; although, to be fair, sometimes he had to wait till the light performed the magic.”

“. . .however, photographers using the camera as a deeply expressive medium or those using it to document human situations will have experienced the sensation of the camera dissolving in an accord between subject and photographer.”

“While he cannot erase from the viewer’s mind the implications of the subject, he prefers to depend for his effect on the visual relations that are present in the print itself.”

Vik Muniz:

“A great picture describes an event while telling you how the artist felt and what he or she was thinking while the event was recorded.”

“An artist can only really fail if he imagines himself apart from what he is trying to describe.”

Diane Arbus:

“What I’m trying to describe is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s. And that’s what all this is a little bit about. That somebody else’s tradedy is not the same as your own.”

“. . .the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. . .”

“They (photographs) are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.”

“I don’t press the shutter. The images does.”

Alexey Brodovitch:

“When the novice photographer starts taking pictures, he carries his camera about and shoots everything that interests him. There comes a time when he must crystallize his ideas and set off in an particular direction. He must learn that shooting for the sake of shooting is dull and unprofitable.”

“The personality and style of a photographer usually limits the type of subject with which he deals best. For example Cartier-Bresson is very interested in people and in travel; these things plus his precise feeling for geometrical relationships determine the type of pictures he takes best. What is of value is that a particular photographer sees the subject differently. A good picture must be a completely individual expression which intrigues the viewer and forces him to think.”

“The photographer, if he is to maintain his integrity must be responsible to himself, he must seek a public which will accept his vision, rather than pervert his vision to fit that public. Unfortunately many fine photographers never find this public and are virtually unemployable in the commercial field.”

“What is a good photograph? I cannot say. A photograph is tied to the time, what is good today may be a cliché tomorrow. The problem of the photographer is to discover his own language, a visual ABC. The picture represents the feelings and point of view of the intelligence behind the camera. This disease of our age is boredom and a good photographer must combat it. The way to do this is by invention – by surprise. When I say a good picture has surprise value I mean that it stimulates my thinking and intrigues me. The best way to achieve surprise quality is by avoiding clichés. Imitation is the greatest danger of the young photographer.”

“The photograph is not only a pictorial report; it is also a psychological report. It represents the feelings and point of view of the intelligence behind the camera.”

“When I say that a good picture has surprise quality or shock appeal, I do not mean that it is a loud or vulgar picture but, instead, that it stimulates my thinking and intrigues me.”

“Surprise quality can be achieved in many ways. It may be produced by a certain stimulating geometrical relationship between elements in the picture or through the human interest of the situation photographed or by calling our attention to some commonplace but fascinating thing we have never noticed before or it can be achieved by looking at an everyday thing in a new interesting way."

"The best way to achieve surprise quality is by avoiding photographic clichés. Many photographers fail to produce stimulating work because they take the same picture over and over again or ones that have been taken many times before by other photographers. Imitation is the greatest danger of the young photographer. The greatest danger of the older photographer who has found approval and has become commercially successful is that he will fall into the trap of endlessly repeating himself.”

“It is every photographer’s responsibility to discover new images and a new personal way of looking at things. If he can do this his pictures will command attention and have surprise quality.”

“Outstanding past work in photography, and in fact in all the arts, is very important to today’s photographers. But it should be used for inspiration and not for imitation. These works should be something to be built upon, not to be repeated.”

“Photographers should make three or four prints from one negative and then crop them differently. When I was art director at Harper’s Bazaar and at several agencies as a consultant, young photographers would bring me their portfolios and all the prints would be in the same standard proportions, either for the Leica or the Rolleiflex. Many times, by limiting themselves in this way, they missed the true potentialities of their photographs.”

“It is the end result that counts.”

“It is the photographer’s decision at the two levels of seeing the picture -- when it is shot and when it is chosen and printed that determines his personal style.”

“It is the unexpected and the surprise quality of a personal vision, rather than the emotion, which make people respond to a photograph.”

“What is of value is that a particular photographer sees the subject differently than I do. A good picture must be a completely individual expression which intrigues the viewer and forces him to think.”

Anton Giulio Bragaglia:

“. . .when a person gets up, the chair is still full of his soul.”

Gary Winogrand:

“I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. Basically, that’s why I photograph, in the simplest language.”

“That’s just beautiful. That’s really a picture of nothing.”

“I could say that I’m a student of photography, and I am, but really I’m a student of America.”

“. . .photographs are about what is photographed, and how what is photographed is changed by being photographed, and how things exist in photographs.”

"I like to think of photographing as a two-way act of respect. Respect for the medium, by letting it do what it does best, describe. And respect for the subject, by describing as it is. A photograph must be responsible to both."

On Teaching:  Walker Evans once asked Gary Winogrand how he teaches. His reply was, “Well, I’d say it’s pretty much the blind leading the blind.”

Leo Rubinfien:

On Gary Winogrand:  “He insisted that a picture was not the same as the tings it showed. He insisted that the picture was not the same as the words people used to talk about it. He insisted that it was not the same as the intentions the photographer had when he made it. He insisted that the moment a particular picture trapped could tell you nothing about the moments that preceded and followed it. He insisted that what you knew about a photographer’s life helped you not al all to understand his pictures. He insisted that what you knew about history helped very little and that you needed to know nothing about, say the place you were in to make a good photograph there.”

“His well known declaration, ‘I photograph to find out what things look like photographed’ baffled people, and was another thing that made some of them angry. I think I can identify two of the reasons why. One was the Garry was renouncing the idea that the artist is in control of the thing he makes. Photography is usually characterized (it always is, in Garry’s work) by a delay between the making of a picture and the seeing of it. You only know what you have later, when you’ve been through the darkroom, and by that time you can do little to alter it, so to some extent you are working blind. Another was that he was refusing to claim large intentions for himself -- to say I photography to bear witness to the grave events of my time; I photograph to set down on paper the essence of the spirit of America -- all he would say is that he photographed ‘to find out. . .’ which seemed to some people to be at once a trivial aim and an ungenerously private one. . . . It tells us how much he was truly committed to the primary bob of the artist, which is to attempt to understand.”

“He would refuse to give himself or anyone else to much credit for a great picture, and often said that ‘good photographs get made despite, not because.’”

Winogrand believed that, “Yes, one photographed in order to get photographs, but not necessarily in order to get good photographs -- one photographed in order to learn something. To discover something.”

Henry Holmes Smith:

“Somebody said recently that the best thing a student could do was to get in some shows and publish a book, but nothing about becoming a human being, nothing about having important feelings or concepts of humanity. That’s the sort of thing that is bad education. I’d say be a human being first and if you happen to wind up using photography, that’s good for photography.”

Charles H. Traub:

From: “The Dos and Don’ts of Graduate Studies: Maxims from the Chair” -- For years, Charles H. Traub (editor of “The Education of a Photographer”) has willed these maxims upon his students. They were inspired by those of his own teacher, the cantankerous Arthur Siegel, at the Institute of Design.

The Dos:

“Do something old in a new way.”

“Do something new in an old way.”

“Do something new in a new way; whatever works, works.”

“Do it sharp -- if you can’t, call it art.”

“Do it in the computer -- if it can be done there.”

“Do fifty of them -- you will definitely get a show.”

“Do it bit -- if you can’t do it big, do it red.”

“If all else fails, turn it upside down -- if it looks good, it might work.”

“Do bend your knees.”

“If you don’t know what to do, look up or down -- but continue looking.”

“Do celebrities -- if you do a lot of them, you’ll get a book.”

“Connect with others -- network.”

“Edit it yourself.”

“Design it yourself.”

“Edit -- when in doubt, shoot more.”

“Edit again.”

“Read Darwin, Marx, Joyce, Freud, Einstein, Benjamin, McLuhan, and Barthes.”

“See Citizen Kane ten times.”

“Look at everything -- stare.”

“Construct your images from the edge inward.”

“If it’s the ‘real world,’ do it in color.”

“If it can be done digitally, do it.”

“Be self-centered, self-involved, and generally entitled and always pushing -- and damned to hell for doing it.”

“Break all rules, except the chairman’s.”

The Don’ts:

“Don’t do it about yourself -- of your friend -- or your family.”

“Don’t dare photograph yourself nude.”

“Don’t look at old family albums.”

“Don’t hand-color it.”

“Don’t write on it.”

“Don’t use alternative processes -- if it ain’t straight, do it in the computer.”

“Don’t gild the lily -- a.k.a. less is more.”

“Don’t go to video when you don’t know what else to do.”

“Don’t photograph indigent people, particularly in foreign lands.”

“Don’t whine, just produce.”

The Truisms:

“Good work sooner or later gets recognized.”

“There are a lot of good photographers who need it before they are dead.”

“If you walk the walk, sooner of later you’ll learn to talk the talk.”

“If you talk the talk too much, sooner or later you are probably not walking the walk (don’t bullshit).”

“Photographers are the only creative people who don’t pay attention to their predecessors’ work -- if you imitate something good, you are more likely to succeed.”

“Whoever originated the idea will surely be forgotten until he or she’s dead – corollary: steal someone else’s idea before they die.”

“If you have to imitate, at least imitate something good.”

“Know the difference.”

“Critics never know what they really like.”

“Critics are the first to recognize the importance of that which is already known in the community at large.”

“The best critics are the ones who like your work.”

“Theoreticians don’t like to look -- they’re generally too busy writing about themselves.”

“Given enough time, theoreticians will contradict and reverse themselves.”

“Practice does not follow theory.”

“Theory follows practice.”

“All artists think they’re self-taught.”

“All artists lie, particularly about their dates and who taught them.”

“No artist has ever seen the work of another artist (the exception being the post-modernists, who’ve adapted appropriation as another means of reinventing the history)."

“The curator or the director is the one in black.”

“The artist is the messy on in black.”

“The owner is the one with the Prada bag.”

“The gallery director is the one who recently uncovered the work of a forgotten person from his or her late spouse.”

“Every gallerist has to discover someone.”

“Every curator has to rediscover someone.”

“The best of them is the one who shows your work.”

“Every generation rediscovers the art of photography.”

“Photography history gets reinvented every ten years.”

“New galleries discover old photographers.”

“Galleries need to fill their walls -- corollary: thus new talents will always be found.”

“Gallerists say hanging pictures is an art.”

“There are no collectors, only people with money.”

“Anyone who buys your work is a collector -- your parents don’t count.”

“All photographers are voyeurs.”

“Admit it and get on with looking.”

“Everyone is narcissistic -- anyone can be photographed.”

“Photography is about looking.”

“Learning how to look takes practice.”

“All photography, in the right context at the right time, is valuable.”

“It is always a historical document.”

“Sooner or later someone will say it is art.”

“Any photographer can all himself an artist, but not every artist can call himself a photographer.”

“Compulsiveness helps.”

“Neatness helps too.”

“Hard work helps the most.”

“The style is felt -- fashion is fad.”

“Remember, it’s usually about who, what, where, when, why, and how.”

“It is who you know.”

“Many a good ides is found in a garbage can.”

“But darkrooms are dark. . .and dank, fugheddaboudit.”

“The best exposure is the one that works.”

“Expose for the shadows, and develop for the highlights.”

“Or better yet, shoot digitally.”

“Cameras don’t think, they don’t have memories.”

“But digitals have something called memory.”

“Learn to see as the camera sees -- don’t try to make it see as the human eye.”

“Remember, digital point-and-shoots are faster than Leicas.”

“Though the computer can correct anything, a bad image is a bad image.”

“If all else fails, you can remember, again, to either do it large or red.”

“Or, tear it up and tape it together.”

“It always looks better framed on the wall.”

“If they don’t sell, raise your price.”

“Self-importance rises with the prices of your images on the wall.”

The work of a dead artist is always more valuable than the work of a live one.”

“You can always pretend to kill yourself and start all over.”

Gregory Crewdson:

“So, let’s just say start with a story and then I think what the artist attempts to do is try to tell that story through pictures, and this is almost like a contradiction, attempting to give physical expression to a story that’s internal. That’s the difficulty and, as teacher, that’s what I am most interested in terms of trying to help a student locate that story in pictorial form.”

“Photography has always been a technological medium. The real equations have not changed. There might be new tools, but as the end of the day the problems are always the same. How to make a photograph tell, reveal, a particular subject in a particular way.”

“Unlike filmmaking, it’s (a photograph is) one moment in time -- there is no beginning in time. The student just has to be absorbed in that one moment. It’s a limitation, but it’s also strength.”

Sarah Charlesworth:

“Photography is integral to the way we think. It informs every aspect of modern experience -- our values, ideas, political views, in short, our ideas of ourselves and our world. As I am interested in exploring the ways in which we as a culture shape our ideas, photography provides a rich terrain of shared experience.”

“I am. . .interested in the formal language of photography: how color, shape, scale, placement, and juxtaposition become the elements through which meaning itself takes form.”

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair:

“Art is inspiration wrestling with constriction, the constriction of the physical doing battle with the idea. For in whichever medium the artist chooses to clothe his muse, he must struggle with the characteristics and the limitations of that medium. After all, he is trying to coax that which is beyond the physical to reside within the physical.”

“The fact that art exists must reveal some aspect of the Devine.”

Ferdinand Hurter and Vero C. Drifield:

“The production of a perfect picture by means of photography is an art; the production of a technically perfect negative is a science.”

Carol McCusker:

“Rather than focusing on what is idiosyncratic or isolating about human experience (there is a time and place for this), I mostly want to see what photography does best, namely, engage me in a relevant and/or palpable experience of the world that expands, connects, or affirms life. Some of the most powerful images are those in which the photographer’s intentions meet the viewer halfway, satisfying or exceeding expectations by opening our eyes to something not seen before.”

“I am sticking my neck out here asking that photography be ‘life-affirming,’ opening myself up to accusations of being old-fashioned or close-minded. But, for me, photography (as with all artmaking) has a moral dimension. It is not a trivial act, and comes with responsibility. It is nothing less that a privilege to make art, and responsibility goes with privilege.”

“Creativity and growth often trigger discomfort. This is perhaps what the poet Stephen Spender meant when he wrote that the act of creation involves ‘a terrible journey’ -- a lonely effort of concentrating the imagination,’ wrote photo historian Bill Jay. At the least, creativity demands time along with your own thought process and belief systems, which feed and sharpen your imagination.”

Alfred Stieglitz:

“Don’t be afraid. Just go ahead -- photograph, photograph, photograph. That’s the only way you’ll learn.”

“I wanted to photograph clouds to find out what I had learned in forty years about photography. Through clouds to put down my philosophy of life -- to show that my photographs were not due to subject matter.”

“I have a vision of life and I try to find equivalents for it sometimes in the form of photographs.”

“(The cloud picture were) equivalents of my most profound life experiences.”

Dorothy Norman:

“In all my photographic work my aim was to achieve the honesty of the form, to be true to the thing itself. My satisfaction came not from taking ‘effective’ photographs, but rather from the wonder of being able to capture moments that mattered to me.”

“I loved to photograph certain faces. When I took portraits I wanted most of all to make close-ups that showed as much as possible of the face. Its expressiveness must come through in order to illuminate character.”

Andreas Feininger:

“Light is the photographic medium par excellence; it is to the photographer what words are to the writer; color and paint to the painter; wood, metal, stone, or clay to the sculptor. Yet most photographers take light for granted, evaluating it quantitatively but not qualitatively, paying little or no attention to it except to make sure that its level is sufficiently high to permit a hand-held exposure. Nowhere in the entire field of photography is the need for photographic seeing greater than in regard to light which, as far as the photographer is concerned, has specific qualities, forms, types, and functions. . . . Seen from the photographer’s point of view, light has four main qualities: brightness, color, contrast, direction.”

Motion:  “ ‘Everything flows’ was a proverb of the ancient Greeks -- everything is in constant change and motion. This is as true today as it was then and visually perceptive photographers know it -- and show it in their photographs. Actually, as far as the photographer is concerned, there are two kinds of motion that must be considered: apparent and real.

The apparent motion is a manifestation of parallax:  as we move, the actually stationary objects of our surroundings seem to move, too, they change their positions relative to one another. . .perspective changes, scale changes, foreshortenings and overlappings change. . .what looks awkward not may look good two steps later, or vice versa. We walk along a street, we drive a car, we watch the scenery change, we wait until the moment is right to take the picture.

The real motion, of course, is the motion of people and animals, of cars and airplanes and ships, of windblown trees and drifting clouds, of waves crashing on the beach and horses racing toward the finishing line, of turning wheels and gears, or fingers pounding a typewriter or playing a symphony. . . . It is the rhythm and essence of life.”

Objective vs. Subjective:  “You have a choice between an objective and a subjective approach to your subject.

The objective approach is factual, ‘objective’ in the sense that its aim is to show the subject in such a way that it can easily be recognized by anyone.

The subjective approach is emotional, representing a deliberate effort on the part of the photographer to express his personal view of the depicted subject.

Whereas the first approach presents facts in picture form, leaving it to the viewer to draw his own conclusions, the second approach attempts to show graphically what the photographer thoughts about this subject and what he felt in response to it.

At its best, an objective subject approach leads to pictures that are interesting and informative. But a subjective approach at its best is not only interesting and informative, but also thought-provoking and stimulating to the mind of the viewer.”

Sam Haskins:

“A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said 'I love your pictures - they're wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.' He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: 'That was a wonderful dinner; you must hava a terrific stove.'”

“Artists don't owe the world anything, least of all explanations.”

“The most significant trends on the creative side of photography seem to be the idea of making a statement with a collection of pictures rather than a single print. This has tremendous potential in the field of photo reportage. If only some of those journalists would take a pause from chasing wars long enough to edit and design their own collections. The system of handing negatives and prints to picture editors or art directors is a very weak one – something like a musician handing a collection of musical phrases to someone else and asking him to compose a symphony with it.”

Fred Burrell:

“Our eyes do not always work right. Minds are not corrected by optometrists. Often, what is most important to us is blurred by emotion and intensity of reaction.”

“Visual awareness is more varied and rich than the details of 20/20 vision. Almost everything is more interesting than the two bottom lines of an eye chart. And as the world moves, our eyes move and our emotions change.”

Maria Morris Hambourg (Consulting Curator to the Department of Prints and Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art):

On the Decisive Moment:  “Each frame was constructed so that the content and form were coherent, indivisible and instantaneous.”

Sandra S. Phillips (Senior Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art):

On the Decisive Moment:  “Cartier-Bresson is popularly know as the discoverer of the ‘decisive moment,’ a later English translation of the accurate French description of his method, images a la sauvette -- pictures made on the run, in the midst of things.”

Elliot Erwitt:

“Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and every thing to do with the way you see them.”

Julia Margaret Cameron:

“From the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardor, and it has become to be as a living thing, with a voice and memory and creative vigor.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Photography is a “mirror with a memory.”

Edward Weston:

“Next to the recording of a fugitive expression, or revealing the pathology of some human being, is there anything more elusive to capture than cloud forms!”

“Those of us who began photographing in monochrome spent years trying to avoid subject matter exciting because of its color; in this new medium, we must now seek subject matter because of its color. We must see color as form, avoiding subjects which are only ‘colored’ black-and-white.”

“. . .it has come to me of late that comparing one man’s work to another’s, naming one greater or lesser, is a wrong approach. The important and only vital question is, how much greater, finer, am I than I was yesterday? Have I fulfilled my possibilities, made the most of my potentialities?”

“Rules of composition are deduced from the work of strong masters and used by weak imitators to produce. . .nothing.”

"I would say to any artist: 'Don't be repressed in your work, dare to experiment, consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.'"

Robert Frank:

“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me, they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is subjected.”

“It is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.”

“My photographs are not planned or composed in advance, and I do not anticipate that the onlooker will share my viewpoint. However, I feel that if my photograph leaves an image on his mind, something has been accomplished.”

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough - there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.”

Walker Evans:

On color photography:  “Color tends to corrupt photography and absolute color corrupts absolutely. . . .There are four simple words for the matter which must be whispered: color photography is vulgar. When the point of a picture subject is precisely the vulgarity. . .then only color film can be used validly.”

A few years later after acquiring a Polaroid camera: “Paradox is a habit of mine. Now I am going to devote myself with great care to my work in color.”

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy:

“The illiterate of the future will be the person ignorant of the use of the camera as well as the pen.”

“…it cannot be too plainly stated that it is quite unimportant whether photography produces ‘art’ or not. Its own basic laws, not the opinions of art critics, will provide the only valid measure of its future worth.”

Gene Thornton:

“Magazine photography is the mural painting of modern times.”

Amy Arbus:

“When I ask to photograph someone, it is because I love the way they look and I think I make that clear. I'm paying them a tremendous compliment. What I'm saying is, I want to take you home with me and look at you for the rest of my life.”

Bill Brandt:

“It is part of the photographer’s job to see more intensely than most people do. He must have and keep in him something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or of the traveler who enters a strange country.”

“Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. And still I am not sure what atmosphere is. I should be hard put to define it. I only know it is a combination of elements, perhaps most simply and yet most inadequately described in terms of lighting and viewpoint, which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

Andrew Beckham:

“It is a demanding discipline, photography. A commitment to craft is the first step toward a commitment to content, the arena of contemplative questioning. And it is here that lasting images are born, where the line between creative and spiritual disciplines is blurred, and art-making begins to assert itself.”

Lucas Gentry:

"Photography has nothing to do with cameras."

Ferdinando Scianna (Magnum member):

"A photograph is not created by a photographer. What they do is just to open a little window and capture it. The world then writes itself on the film. The act of the photographer is closer to reading than it is to writing. They are the readers of the world."

Imogen Cunningham:

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

Gustave Le Gray:

“It is my deepest wish that photography; instead of falling in the domain of industry, or commerce, will be included among the arts. That is its sole, true place, and this is the direction that I shall always endeavor to guide it.” (1852)

Willy Ronis:

“We do not see what is “real,” we see what we are.”

“I have never separated form and content. The photo should have a meaning. But my photos are also more or less well constructed. If they had false notes, they stayed on the contact sheet.”

Yousef Karsh:

“Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize.”

Sam Abell:

“It matters little how much equipment we use; it matters much that we be masters of all we do use.”

“But there is more to a fine photograph than information. We are also seeking to present an image that arouses the curiosity of the viewer or that, best of all, provokes the viewer to think--to ask a question or simply to gaze in thoughtful wonder. We know that photographs inform people. We also know that photographs move people. The photograph that does both is the one we want to see and make. It is the kind of picture that makes you want to pick up your own camera again and go to work.”

“Photographs that transcend but do not deny their literal situation appeal to me.”

Eddie Adams:

"If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, f it rips out your heart, that's a good picture."

Hans Namuth:

“The photographer has to go directly to where a person exists, to enter his private theatre or his essential reality, with all of its vulnerability. He has to become one with the drama unfolding before him -- and sometimes with the anguish and terror that is a part of it. Kindness is the key, and it is extraordinary that when the key is turned, much more than the simple game of appearances opens up to us. Suddenly the person and all that surrounds them take on a greater meaning, as though a light were shining from within.”

Ralph Hattersley:

“A common hang-up with photographers is the notion that they must invariably and without fail make their pictures. By this, they mean that they should never shoot something just as it is but should themselves make as many ‘contributions’ to it as possible. Only then, they say, have they the right to call their pictures their own. They do not, of course, realize that this is a neurotic point of view and that its hidden implications would show them in a very bad light.”

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

Duane Michals:

“The craft of photography is to the final image what grammar is to literature.”

“Photography shouldn't necessarily be about beauty.  It should be about truth.”

Emmet Gowin:

“The path of genius is crooked...the mistake is how we make progress.”

W. Eugene Smith:

"What uses having a great depth of field, if there is not an adequate depth of feeling?"

"Most photographers seem to operate with a pane of glass between themselves and their subjects. They just can't get inside and know the subject."

[I crop ] "for the benefit of the pictures. The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera."

"Available light is any damn light that is available!"

"I would that my photographs might be, not the coverage of a news event, but an indictment of war – the brutal corupting viciousness of its doing to the minds and bodies of men; and, that my photographs might be a powerful emotional catalyst to the reasoning which would help this vile and criminal stupidity from beginning again."

"Negatives are the notebooks, the jottings, the false starts, the whims, the poor drafts, and the good draft but never the completed version of the work. . . .The print and a proper one is the only completed photograph, whether it is specifically shaded for reproduction, or for a museum wall."

"The purpose of all art is to cause a deep and emotion, also one that is entertaining or pleasing. Out of the depth and entertainment comes value."

"Up to and including the moment of exposure, the photographer is working in an undeniably subjective way. By his choice of technical approach, by the selection of the subject matter...and by his decision as to the exact cinematic instant of exposure, he is blending the variables of interpretation into an emotional whole."

"I am an idealist. I often feel I would like to be an artist in an ivory tower. Yet it is imperative that I speak to people, so I must desert that ivory tower. To do this, I am a journalist—a photojournalist. But I am always torn between the attitude of the journalist, who is a recorder of facts, and the artist, who is often necessarily at odds with the facts. My principle concern is for honesty, above all honesty with myself. . ."

"I [Smith] use literature, music and I try to get them [the students] to see in a small ways by teaching them responsibility. For instances, I had a little bottle that said SCOTCH on it and I kept ducking behind the desk to pour myself a drink from it. Everyone was wild, taking pictures of me, trying to sneak a picture of me sneaking a drink. After a while I said: “Okay, you’ve been photographing me drinking from this bottle, so you will distribute pictures to show that I drink while teaching. But you’ve never asked me what’s in the bottle. It’s a bottle of cider – you are very bad reporters!"

Carl Mydan:

"...one is not really a photographer until preoccupation with learning has been outgrown and the camera in his hands is an extension of himself. There is where creativity begins."

I think it is fair to say that all war photographers hide behind their cameras. I hid behind mine for years and years and years. It was a shield... I think that the photographer in combat has a greater protection than the soldier who has a rifle in his hand. That camera has unbelievable protective power."

"As our landing craft neared the beach I saw that the SeaBees had had gotten there before us and had laid a pontoon walkway out from the beach. As we headed for it, I climbed the boat’s ramp and jumped onto the pontoons so that I could photograph MacArthur as he walked ashore. But in the instant of my jumping I heard the boat’s engines reversing and, swinging around, I saw the boat rapidly backing away. Judging what was happening, I raced to the beach and ran dry-shod some hundred yards along it and stood waiting for the boat to come to me. When it did, it dropped its ramp in knee-deep water and I photographed MacArthur wading ashore. No one I have ever known in public life had a better understanding of the drama and power of a picture." (On General Douglas MacArthur’s return to Luzon, January 9, 1945.)

Eudora Welty:

"A good snapshot stops a moment from running away."

Kurt Vonnegut:

“The arts are not a way of making a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Arthur Rothstein:

"...a photographer must be aware of and concerned about the words that accompany a picture. These words should be considered as carefully as the lighting, exposure and composition of the photograph."

"It is sometimes desirable to distort or accentuate with lenses of various focal lengths... Deliberate distortion may actually add to its reality."

"The photographer [must] become not only a cameraman but a scenarist, dramatist, and director as well... Providing the results are a faithful reproduction of what the photographer believes he sees, whatever takes place in the making of the picture is justified. In my opinion, therefore, it is logical to make things happen before the camera and, when possible to control the actions of the subject."

Russell Lee:

"Early on," he told an assemblage of photographers in Philadelphia in 1983, "I found out that it was important to get pictures of the interiors of the homes because that showed how people lived, what they ate . . . the furniture they had. . . . All these details became very, very important to the Administration (of Franklin D. Roosevelt) because on the basis of these photographs, Congress could release more funds to the rural areas." (Los Angeles Times Obituary, August 31, 1986)

"You understand about the pictures you have of your family. Well, I'm taking pictures of you because you are the history of today." (Los Angeles Times Obituary, August 31, 1986)

Marion Post Wolcott:

"My principal concern is to challenge photographers to document, in mixed media if they wish, or even just record, in still photographs as well as film and video, our present quality of life, the causes of the present malaise in our society—and the world—the evidences of it. History, which will affect this and many generations, is being made, is right out there. A record of it might be useful in an old, new world."  (Women in Photography Conference, Syracuse University, October, 1986)

"When I took the FSA job, I already had battle scars. I had weathered…the first weeks as a female full-time staff photographer on the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin…The ten male photographers with whom I was to work, immediately put out their cigarette butts in my developer, spit in and hypoed it, probably peed in it; threw spit balls into my cubby-hole darkroom until my aim and speed became better than theirs. Finally, I exploded—telling them I was there to stay…I told them how and when I could be very useful to them, and that I needed their help in return; that they could teach me about a Speed Graphic and how to develop and print for a newspaper, that they could openly use their accustomed language and the four-letter words which I’d heard and used, and would welcome the opportunity to feel free to use them myself, again. That did it; we reached a truce…soon each one confidentially telling me that the others were wolves and he was going to be my protector."  (Women in Photography Conference, Syracuse University, October, 1986)

Ben Shahn:

"The artist is likely to be looked upon with some uneasiness by the more conservative members of society."

"Art almost always has its ingredient of impudence, its flouting of established authority, so that it may substitute its own authority, and its own enlightenment."

"It may be a point of great pride to have a Van Gogh on the living room wall, but the prospects of having Van Gogh himself in the living room would put a great many devoted art lovers to rout."

"It is not the how of painting but the why. To imitate a style would be a little like teaching a tone of voice or a personality."

"An amateur is an artist who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint. A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint."

"It is the mission of art to remind man from time to time that he is human. . . ."

"I became interested in photography when I found my own sketching was inadequate."

"I was primarily interested in people, and people in action, so that I did nothing photographically in the sense of doing buildings for their own sake or a still life or anything like that."

"Of course I realize that photography is not the technical facility as much as it is the eye, and this decision that one makes for the moment at which you are going to snap, you know."

 Bernice Abbott:

"Suppose we took a thousand negatives and made a gigantic montage: a myriad-faceted picture containing the elegances, the squalor, the curiosities, the monuments, the sad faces, the triumphant faces, the power, the irony, the strength, the decay, the past, the present, the future of a city – that would be my favorite picture." (Popular Photography, February, 1940, when asked to name her favorite picture)

Edward Steichen:

"I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself."

"Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. Photography is a major force in explaining man to man."

"Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things."

"Every ten years a man should give himself a good kick in the pants."

Gordon Parks:

"Those people who want to use a camera should have something in mind, there's something they want to show, something they want to say. . . ."

"I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty.  I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did. . .most of whom were murdered or put in prison. . .but I chose not to go that way.  I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so."

Lisette Model:

"I am a pationate lover of the snapshot, because of all photographic images, it comes closest to the truth ... the snapshooter['s] pictures have an apparent disorder and imperfection which is exactly their appeal and their style." (from an interview with Philip Lopate)

"This photographic thing has changed the entire vision of the world. It will go through every activity of humanity -- science, medicine, space, ESP, for peace, against peace, entertainment, television, movies, all of them -- you will not find one without photography."

"Photography is the easiest art, which perhaps makes it the hardest."

Oliver Gagliani:

When I asked Oliver why art is important, he said, "Because it's the only thing that teaches you how to feel. Without that, you haven't got anything." (from Brian Killigrew epitaph upon learning of the passign of his good friend)

Ralph Steiner:

"Eventually I discovered for myself the utterly simple prescription for creativity; be intensly yourself. Don't try to be outstanding; don't try to be a success;don't try to do pictures for others to look at- just please yourself." (from "A Point of View" by Ralph Steiner)

"If I were to teach, I wouldn't teach a course in photography. I'd teach a course called 'What Matters.'"

"These days I think the composers of music influence me more than any photographers or visual creators. I see something exciting or lovely and think to myself: 'If Papa Haydn or Wolfgang Amadeus or the red-headed Vivaldi were here with a camera, they'd snap a picture of what's in front of me.' So I take the picture for them."

Richard Avedon:

“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” (PBS American Masters Series)

Jack Welpott:

"Photography is a holding together of opposites: Light and dark, beautiful and ugly, sublime and banal, concious and unconcious. I am still struck by the power of photography to strip away the bark of the mind and reveal the visceral workings underneath."

"Portrait photography is an experience between two human beings, an experience shared with the viewer through the resulting photograph. If the moment was charged with feeling the image can be personal and revealing.":  Women & Other Visions by Judy Dater, Jack Welpott , ISBN: 0871001020

"Part of the fascination that photography holds is its ability to unlock secrets kept even from ourselves. Like dreams, the photograph can uncork a heady bouquet of recognition which can escape into the cognitive world. Sometimes the aroma is sharp; sometimes dry. This "shock of recognition" can be, at times, unsettling – it can also be sublime. The expressive portrait can do these things.":  Women & Other Visions by Judy Dater, Jack Welpott , ISBN: 0871001020

"...to make a photograph as honestly as one can generates an artifact that bears witness to one’s personal truth."

Eve Arnold:

"It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument."

Joel Meyerowitz:

“We think of photography as pictures. And it is. But I think of photography as ideas. And do the pictures sustain your ideas or are they just good pictures? I want to have an experience in the world that is a deepening experience, that makes me feel alive and awake and conscious.”

Arnold Newman:

"A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart."


Mary Ellen Mark:


“I don’t think you’re ever an objective observer. By making a frame you’re being selective, then you edit the pictures you want published and you’re being selective again. You develop a point of view that you want to express. You try to go into a situation with an open mind, but then you form an opinion and you express it in your photographs. It is very important for a photographer to have a point of view that contributes to a great photograph.”
"I just think it’s important to be direct and honest with people about why you’re photographing them and what you’re doing. After all, you are taking some of their soul."

"It’s not when you press the shutter, but why you press the shutter."


  1. Great effort in collecting these photo quotes, John.

  2. Many thanks, Rob. I use this primarily as a teaching tool for my photography classes, and I hope to keep adding to the list.

  3. Good list. In the future it would also be helpful to include a citation to provide context and a resource that could be searched and verified. Thanks.

  4. Excellent suggestion, Imagemaker. Many thanks.


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