Famous Photographer Quotes
I always loved the fact that Harry Callahan found photography—or photography found him—as an adult in an automobile factory camera club. To me, he’s Everyman with a camera. His subject was his daily life; his art lay in his personal vision. Photographing blades of grass and sticks poking out of snow and sand was almost unthinkable when Callahan shot thousands of them. He left behind 100,000 negatives and over 10,000 proof prints. Yet, for all his photographic activity, Callahan, at his own estimation, produced no more than half a dozen final images a year.
Harry Callahan (October 22, 1912 – March 15, 1999) was an influential twentieth century American photographer. He was born in Detroit and studied engineering at Michigan State University. He dropped out of school and went to work for Chrysler. It was there he discovered photography in the company camera club. A talk by Ansel Adams inspired him to take his work seriously.
Callahan’s work was deeply personal. He would almost daily walk around his neighborhood photographing street scenes, buildings, trees, weeds, and his wife and daughter. He spent his afternoons developing film and looking at proof sheets. He eventually taught at the Rhode Island School of Design and always stressed to his students the importance of photographing their families as subjects.
His wife and subject, Eleanor, died in February, 2012 in Atlanta at the age of 95.
Harry Callahan, the photographer, and “Dirty Harry” Callahan, Clint Eastwood’s iconic movie character, are unrelated.
Richard Avedon’s photographs always oozed with the most elegant and compelling style. Early in his career—in the 40′s—he changed the look of fashion photograph by having his models run and jump and laugh, a new vision at the time. Then, in the 60′s, he photographed what seems to be almost every famous person of the time standing stock still in front of a white piece of paper.
But through it all he was prolific. He produced an incredible body of work by staying connected with his camera and cranking it out every day. He was well aware that being talented was not enough. He respected his art and his craft with hard work. He wasn’t a photographer by occupation, he was a photographer by birth and was blessed to have recognized that fact while he was still working.
No wonder Gordon Parks felt like he was just beginning. He must’ve been energized by his own accomplishments. He was some kind of creative Jeffersonian genius. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do.
I love that photography was woven through so much of what he did.—he understood the power of the printed and moving images. He was Jackie Robinson with a camera. He cracked Life Magazine and Hollywood and did it all with a sense of activism.
Parks said that freedom was the theme of all his work; he described it as “Not allowing anyone to set boundaries, cutting loose the imagination and then making the new horizons.” him —Nick Kelsh
Gordon Parks (1912–2006) was a groundbreaking American photographer, musician, poet, novelist, journalist, and film director.
He is best remembered for his photo essays for Life Magazine and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft.
A 1948 photo essay on a young Harlem gang leader won Parks a staff job as a photographer and writer with Life. For twenty years, Parks produced photos of subjects including fashion, sports, Broadway, poverty, racial segregation, and portraits of Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali, and Barbra Streisand. His 1961 photo essay on a poor Brazilian boy who was dying from bronchial pneumonia and malnutrition, brought donations that saved the boy’s life and paid for a new home for his family.
He was the first African-American to work at Life Magazine, and the first to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film. He was profiled in the 1967 documentary, Weapons of Gordon Parks.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is the Zeus of street photography. He often spoke of the “decisive moment” as the culmination and alignment of time, space, and emotion producing photographic perfection. Several of the very accomplished photographers I went to school with would tell you Cartier-Bresson is the greatest photographer who has ever lived.
He’s regarded as a completely natural photographer—he was an accomplished artist at a young age—so it’s comforting to the rest of us he openly admitted that climbing the photographic ladder takes time, energy, and a willingness to recognize your mistakes. I suspect that if he had been blessed enough to get his hands on a modern digital camera he may have revised his worst photographs estimate to eight or nine thousand. —Nick Kelsh
For photographers of my generation (I was introduced to Diane Arbus’s work in 1970—I was seventeen) Diane Arbus represented a bold, honest, and never before seen vision of the world. It was impossible to imagine how she was able to befriend people on the fringe of society, photograph them, and display their images in books with other social “freaks” without disrespecting them—but she did it. She pulled it off and she was amazingly eloquent about her work to boot. Her words and pictures will inspire photographers for generations to come.
I believe the sentiment in this quote holds true for all photographers. You may not feel like you have a singular vision, but photographing your world is a unique way to share with the people in your life what your world looks like and how you feel about it. It’s your world and only you see it that way. Even the most simple, modest image from your point-and-shoot represents a slice of the human experience as only you know it. We will never see it if you never photograph it. —Nick Kelsh
Diane Arbus (1923–1971) was an American photographer and writer noted for square black-and-white photographs of “deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transvestites, nudists, circus performers) or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal.”
Arbus said that she was “afraid she would be known simply as “the photographer of freaks”; however, that phrase has been used repeatedly to describe her.
Although her work has sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, it has provoked controversy; for example, Norman Mailer was quoted as saying “giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.” She committed suicide in 1971.