Interviews and inspiration from my favourite photographers

In this article I want to bring you a collection of interviews from some of my favourite photographers – along with quotes and ideas of theirs that have really impacted me.

Each of them has a different philosophy and approach to photography, they all have different visions for what photography means to them. And that’s so exciting. Photography is not a one size fits all system. It’s an expression of who you are and how you see the world.

What makes these photographers work interesting is they have allowed their uniqueness to be expressed in their work.

So some thoughts and ideas to mull over. Enjoy! Some should hopefully explode as little nuggets of inspiration for you!

Ara Güler

I love this guy. Called ‘the eye of Istanbul’ he’s been photographing the city since the 1940’s. I love intense feeling you get from his photos; fleeting moments of humans in the throws of life in this mesmerising city. I only discovered him when I started photographing Istanbul myself, but he’s someone I would totally recommend.

“They call me a photographer, imagine that! Son, I am a historian. I record history.”

A 2 minute intro to his work, beautiful!


Güler quotes I love:

When I’m taking a picture of Aya Sofia, what counts is the person passing by who stands for life

“A city means a place where people love to live, where people get a certain flavor out of living. Those are the places I love to photograph.”

My favourite book: Vanished Colours is extraordinary, but it’s super hard to buy outside of Turkey. He is amazing at expressing mood and feeling using colour. So go for his recent book Istanbul, which has a great collection of images from his long love affair with the city.

Don McCullin

A short but interesting interview with the great photographer (don’t mention the war!) Some of my favourite quotes from the interview:

“When my time is up on this earth I want to leave a legacy behind of beautiful landscape pictures of Somerset. I don’t want to be remembered as a war photographer, I hate that title.”

“Every day to me is an opportunity is to discover something new, not just about myself but about the planet that I live on.”

McCullin quotes I love:

“I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”

“Photography’s a case of keeping all the pores of the skin open, as well as the eyes. A lot of photographers today think that by putting on the uniform, the fishing vest, and all the Nikons, that that makes them a photographer. But it doesn’t. It’s not just seeing. It’s feeling.”

“The real truth of life is on the streets. Photograph the daily lives of people, and how they exist, and how they fight for space and time and pleasure.”

Gordon Parks

One of those stunning individuals who has turned his hand to more than one art and excelled – photojournalist, musician, filmmaker. He was one of the first famous African American photographers, who captured a changing America from the 1940’s on.

“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”

I love his quite perceptiveness and the emotional impact of his photos. He had a vision of what he wanted to capture – touch people with the stories he found – and he achieved it. His work is still very powerful today.

Parks quotes I love:

“The subject matter is so much more important than the photographer.”

Enthusiasm is the electricity of life. How do you get it? You act enthusiastic until you make it a habit.

If you don’t have anything to say, your photographs aren’t going to say much.

“I suffered evils, but without allowing them to rob me of the freedom to expand.”

Book: I think this will be my next purchase, Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Worth, showing the power of the story.  

Diane Arbus

A beautiful film made by her daughter Doon after Arbus died. As well as some interviews with those who knew and loved her there is a running narrative of her words read by a friend. A very intimate look at an extremely talented and controversial photographer.

Arbus spent a huge amount of time getting to know her subjects and connecting to them, which I think was essential for the openness with which her subjects faced her camera. One of my favourite things that she says is she never arranged her subjects, she would just arrange herself.

Arbus quotes I love:

The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.”

“I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”

“I never have taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse.”

Sebastião Salgado

Fantastic film about Salgado’s project Genesis, which was an epic 8 year project in the making. You have to see this, it will change how you see the planet.

Salgado quotes I love:

“The picture is not made by the photographer, the picture is more good or less good in function of the relationship that you have with the people you photograph.”

It’s more important for a photographer to have very good shoes, than to have a very good camera.”

I don’t believe a person has a style. What people have is a way of photographing what is inside them. What is there comes out.

“If you take a picture of a human that does not make him noble, there is no reason to take this picture. That is my way of seeing things.”

Annie Leibovitz

I have always been in awe of Leibovitz ability to get celebrities to crawl in mud, balance on backs and generally act like fools. Just fantastic. In this interview she talks about one of her books, Women, and how she came to develop a unique project of a vast subject, even though it intimated her.

She gives us insight into her extraordinary ability to create unique portraits and the challenges she faces. I love what she says about photographing her mother – how that was tough because she knew how her mother saw herself – and that I think is what we all face when talking portraits. Can we capture who this person really is, and not who they think they are or what they want to be?

In the Diane Arbus film above she also talks about this – if you want to do portraits these two interviews are a must.

Leibovitz quotes I love:

“I’ve said about a million times that the best thing a young photographer can do is to stay close to home. Start with your friends and family, the people who will put up with you. Discover what it means to be close to your work, to be intimate with a subject. Measure the difference between that and working with someone you don’t know as much about. Of course there are many good photographs that have nothing to do with staying close to home, and I guess what I’m really saying is that you should take pictures of something that has meaning for you…”

“Photography’s like this baby that needs to be fed all the time. It’s always hungry. It needs to be read to, taken care of. I had to nourish my work with different approaches.”

“I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.”

Favourite book: A Photographer’s Life is a really interesting book; mixed in with the portraits she is famous for are the photos she took in her day-to-day life. Her family, the death of her partner and father and the birth of her three daughters.

As she said  “I don’t have two lives, this is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.”

And this is how most photographers images would appear, a collection of professional and personal. Because photography becomes part of every aspect of our lives.

Ansel Adams

Excellent short film about Adams skill of ‘pre-visualisation’, which for me is so important in my photos (although many photographers don’t do this. See Diane Arbus below.) It’s really about learning to see what the finished image will look like before you take the shot.

Adam’s son talks about the process of learning about pre-visualisation and clips of interviews with Ansel himself talking about his five key photo recommendations.

(And what I loved learning in this is Adams was weighing up a career in music or photography. Like me! Wow, I might be destined for greatness too :))

Adams quotes I love:

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

“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.”

Favourite book: At first I was going to recommend his series of three books about the zone system, but unless you’re into printing film then it’s not super relevant. So I’m suggesting his book National Parks instead which has many of his iconic images. If you are into printing and film then you’ll love The Negative, The Camera and The Print.

Jonas Bendiksen

One of my favourite Magnum photographer. His book Satellites is my favourite photo book of the past couple of years. His use of colour, the subject matter…He rocks!  Here is the essay behind the book.

Bendiksen quotes:

“Throw yourself off a cliff. Figuratively speaking, I mean. Photography is a language. Think about what you want to use it to talk about. What are you interested in? What questions do you want to ask? Then, go for it, and throw yourself into talking about that topic, using photography. Make a body of work about that.”

Elliott Erwitt

The funny, rather spiky and interesting photographer answers questions about digital photography and ‘the best photo is the one I haven’t taken yet’ in the first of a series of films on this playlist.

Too many great books to pick one, but have a look at my post about Erwitt for some of things that I love about him.

Erwitt quotes I love:

“There isn’t much to learn about photography, everything you need to know you can find out by reading the instructions in the box. The rest is practise.”

“I wasn’t imposing my presence on anyone,..which is very important for a would- be journalist. I stayed back. Always let people be themselves.”

“After following the crowd for a while, I’d then go 180 degrees in the exact opposite direction. It always worked for me, but then again, I’m very lucky.”