Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Inspirational Quotes

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Before I dive into the books and course materials and start highlighting lines of interesting text, I thought I’d take a look at some quotations from celebrated photographers that have in some way inspired me to look at photography from a different perspective. These will remind me why I am interested in learning more, and will hopefully keep me going if my energy or creativity dips. Here goes:

When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.
― Robert Frank

My starting point was the title of the course: The Art of Photography. Not the technique or practice, the art. What makes photography qualify as art? What is the distinction between a snapshot and ‘art‘? For me, art has to have some meaning beyond the purely aesthetic, it has to provoke some kind of response in the viewer. I know some photographs really connect with me, make we want to stare at them, while others leave me unmoved. One of the things I want to get out of the course is to understand what is driving these responses.

Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.
– Henri Cartier-Bresson

This reminds me of the need to practice, practice, practice. That nothing comes immediately, that it is in the repetition and the mistakes that makes the learner learn. Although with the advent of digital photography, maybe this maxim requires a certain amount of inflation: more like your first 100,000…?

All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.
– Elliott Erwitt

I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.
– Diane Arbus

These two are cut from the same cloth, but I like them both. I’m already learning that just thinking like a photographer, even when I don’t have my camera with me, makes me notice details that I’d have otherwise missed. Every beautiful, inspirational, thought-provoking, informative, educational photograph captured something that’s there, naturally or through design. Not everyone would have noticed the potential, but someone did, and they clicked the shutter on it.

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

On the face of it Lange seems to be saying the same as Erwitt and Arbus, but to me it’s taking the idea one step further; that not only does the camera train the photographer’s eye, it allows others – the viewers of the photograph – to see in the same way that the photographer did. It’s a form of capturing not just a real-life image, but the vision of the artist behind it.

When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.
– Garry Winogrand

This one resonated with me. The very act of pointing the camera and composing the photo is an act of editing; every photo is a crop. What you choose to exclude is often as important as what you include. I think we naturally do this anyway, but increasingly I’m doing it more consciously. Editing the world into a rectangle.

There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.
– Ansel Adams

This reminds me not to concentrate solely on the technical aspects of a photograph, the pure image quality. A super-sharp image that provokes no response in the viewer is not a great photograph.

That’s it for now. I’ve read this back and some of it sounds slightly pretentious! I’d better get used to that.


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