Words of Wisdom or Just Words?

The Myths of Photography Quotes


Peter Pickering

4/13/20242 min read

Brick Wall
Brick Wall

Every photographer, at some point, stumbles across a quote that sticks like a piece of gum to the bottom of a shoe. You know the type—profound, eloquently phrased, and seemingly packed with the secrets of the greats. It’s tempting, isn’t it? To clutch these pearls of wisdom as if they were the Holy Grail, believing that just by whispering Ansel Adams’ musings under your breath, your next shot might just hang in the halls of MoMA.

But let’s have a little chinwag and put these quotes where they belong. Sure, they’re just words, but oh, how we hang onto them! We treat these snippets like sacred scripts that, if followed devoutly, will elevate our art to the ranks of the icons who uttered them. Here’s a thought: take all these revered words, toss them up in the air, and let them fall where they may. Mix them up in a bingo barrel, pluck them out one by one, and then—only then—have a proper gander.

Imagine this: each quote is a single brick. You’re trying to build a wall, a grand, sprawling wall that represents your skill, your vision, your very ethos as a photographer. Each piece of advice, each snappy saying, is just that—one brick. Now, can one brick alone support anything substantial? Hardly. It takes many bricks, carefully laid together with the mortar of experience, trial and error, and personal insight to construct something sturdy, something lasting.

As you gather these bricks—quotes from Henri Cartier-Bresson about "the decisive moment," or Robert Capa’s "if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough"—remember, they are but fragments. Brilliant, yes, and often inspiring, but they are not the whole edifice. You can’t base your entire craft on these words alone and expect to capture the soul of street photography or any other style.

We’re often told that the answers are out there, ready to be discovered in the syllables of the seasoned, but here’s the rub: photography, like any art, is a personal journey. It’s a mosaic of influences—sure, quotes play their part, but so does your unique perspective, your failures, your experiments, and your undying curiosity.

So, by all means, read these quotes, reflect on them, chuckle or brood over them if you must. But remember, in the grand scheme of things, when the shutter clicks, the light captures, and the image is born, those words are just spectators to your creativity. They might guide you, nudge you, even frustrate you, but they aren’t the ones behind the lens—you are. And when you look at the wall you’ve built, adorned with the influence of those who’ve walked the path before, remember that it’s your handiwork, your vision brought to life. Those quotes? They’re just part of the mix, and without your flair, your dedication, and yes, your heart, you are nowhere close to finding that elusive perfect shot.

Remember, in photography, as in life, the whole is much more than the sum of its quoted parts. Keep shooting, keep learning, and let those words be the background music to your visual symphony.

© Peter Pickering 2024. www.peterpickering.com