Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

W. Eugene Smith, fully William Eugene Smith

American Photojournalist known for his brutally vivid World War II photographs

"Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative endeavors."

"An artist must be ruthlessly selfish."

"A Passion is in all great searches and is necessary to all creative endeavors."

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

"Dear _______________ (an editor); P.S. In printing the photographs of the white-gowned Klan members I ran into considerable difficulty. There were several with uncovered faces and these faces were vividly dark in comparison to the white-white of the gowns that it was almost impossible to keep them from appearing black."

"Hardening of the categories causes art disease."

"Each time I pressed the shutter release it was a shouted condemnation hurled with the hope that the picture might survive through the years, with the hope that they might echo through the minds of men in the future - causing them caution and remembrance and realization."

"Everyone likes a good quote - don't forget to share."

"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!"

"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 am constantly torn between the attitude of the conscientious journalist who is a recorder and interpreter of the facts and of the creative artist who often is necessarily at poetic odds with the literal facts."

"I can’t stand these damn shows on museum walls with neat little frames, where you look at the images as if they were pieces of art. I want them to be pieces of life!"

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

"I would that my photographs might be, not the coverage of a news event, but an indictment of war – the brutal corrupting 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."

"I was after a set of pictures, so that when people looked at them they would say, ‘This is war’--that the people who were in the war would believe that I had truthfully captured what they had gone through... I worked in the framework that war is horrible. I want to carry on what I have tried to do in these pictures. War is a concentrated unit in the world and these things are clearly and cleanly seen. Things like race prejudice, poverty, hatred and bigotry are sprawling things in civilian life, and not so easy to define as war."

"I... made brash, dashing interpretive photographs which were overly clever and with too much technique… with great depth of field, very little depth of feeling, and with considerable 'success'."

"I think that basically all of my photographs are failures... I'm not saying that as a self-negation or anything like that, I just don't judge it upon it upon how "good" it was, but rather upon how I'd fail upon what I was trying to say... I think this [Tomoko in her Bath] personally is the best photograph I ever made, it came to say what I was trying to say."

"If I can get them to think, get them to feel, get them to see, then I've done about all that I can as a teacher."

"I've never made any picture, good or bad, without paying for it in emotional turmoil."

"In music I still prefer the minor key, and in printing I like the light coming from the dark. I like pictures that surmount the darkness, and many of my photographs are that way. It is the way I see photographically. For practical reasons, I think it looks better in print too."

"Many claim I am a photographer of tragedy. In the greater sense I am not, for though I often photograph where the tragic emotion is present, the result is almost invariably affirmative."

"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."

"My photographs at best hold only a small length, but through them I would suggest and criticize and illuminate and try to give compassionate understanding."

"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 completed version a print should be sufficient and fair return for a magazine's investment, for it is the means of fulfilling the magazine's purpose ,,,, The print and a proper one is the only completed photograph, whether it is specifically shaded for reproduction, or for a museum wall. Negatives are private, as is my bedroom."

"Photography is a small voice, at the best sometimes – just sometimes – one photograph or a group of them cab lure our senses into awareness. Much depends upon the viewer; in some, photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought… Someone – or perhaps many – among us may be influenced to heed reason, to find a way to right that which is wrong….The rest of us may perhaps feel a greater sense of understanding and compassion for those lives are alien to our own….Photography is a small voice….It is important voice in my life, but not the only one. I believe in it."

"My pictures are complex and so am I. When I am almost symbolistic in writing, there is a more limiting difference is of accepting, while I can be even more complex in the photographs and people can usually accept them within the framework of their own limitations or lack of limitations – there is no dictionary meaning... they can look up for the photographic image and allow it to confuse them."

"Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold."

"The belief, the try, a camera and some film - the fragile weapons of my good intentions. With these I fought war."

"The photographer must bear the responsibility for his work and its effect …[for] photographic journalism, because of its tremendous audience reached by publications using it, has more influence on public thinking than any other branch of photography."

"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."

"To became neighbors and friends instead of journalists. This is the way to make your finest photographs."

"The world just does not fit conveniently into the format of a 35mm camera."

"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."

"With considerable soul searching, that to the utmost of my ability, I have let truth be the prejudice."

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