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The Photo Issue 2001

A Brief Anthology of ‘Quotations’

Susan Sontag closes her seminal book On Photography with a “brief anthology of quotations”—compiling remarks from various brilliant people on the topic. The following statements are a variation on Sontag’s original collection of quotes—misheard...

Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Susan Sontag closes her seminal book On Photography with a “brief anthology of quotations”—compiling remarks from various brilliant people on the topic. Sontag writes:

The final reason for the need to photograph everything lies in the very logic of consumption itself. To consume means to burn, to use up—and, therefore, to need to be replenished.

There’s always a new thing to look at, the same way there’s always a new way to say that. The following statements are a variation on Sontag’s original collection of quotes—misheard, translated, or reimagined for the year 2014 and for replenishment’s sake. This isn’t what they said, but it’s what they meant.


Beauty, you’re under arrest. I have a camera, and I’m not afraid to use it.
—Julia Margaret Cameron

I love looking at famous people. Because of the way they look. Because of the way photography makes them look famous.
—Arthur Schopenhauer

I can only see beautiful things when I’m fucked up.
—Friedrich Nietzsche

If you can take photographs with language, I’m taking one right now.
—Lewis Hine

In Marseille, I went around with my Leica like a wild-game hunter hoping to capture a baby T. rex and bring it back alive. It was like Pokémon Snap. It was like looking at life with the eye of God, which rises from your pyramidal core and creates a likeness of the living thing seen stopped.
—Henri Cartier-Bresson

GET A CAMERA: It’s like having a hand that’s a camera.
—Advertisement, 1976

It’s hard not to tell the truth with a camera. Artists are particularly good at that.
—Edward Weston

Nothing can be like, “No photos!” anymore.
—Robert Frank

Rooms are my favorite places, because they’re not places. When people aren’t anywhere, they’re in a room. If you’re in a room, you’re like a heartbeat in a silence chamber. You’re like someone who likes putting yourself in a room. I like meeting people in rooms. Some rooms are like places. Nowhere’s kind of like a place. People are different when they’re nowhere. I feel like a lot of people want to go where they’re nowhere—like in a doctor’s office, or the sky. They ask me, Richard Avedon, to show them who they are. I say, “You’re who you’re.” Richard Avedon exists only in Richard Avedon’s mind. Richard Avedon’s mind exists only in your mind as you read this or when you look at what Richard Avedon made—which is a way of thinking about being with someone temporarily, in a moment, forgettably, except by a medium, through which you are seen, and thus kept. Richard Avedon still exists.
—Richard Avedon


Ansel Adams does Nature better than Nature does itself.
—Advertisement for a book of photographs by Adams, 1974

Most of my photos don’t speak English.
—Bruce Davidson

Daguerre really fucked up French history when he invented the selfie.
—Charles Baudelaire

Don’t get me wrong—painting’s all right. But now that we have photography, what’s the point?
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Everybody wants to cuddle with “the object.”
—Walter Benjamin

Photography is a lot like telling a large predatory cat what to do—while an audience of people you can’t see watches you.
—Dorothea Lange

If I didn’t have a camera, the things I do would be crazy.
—Diane Arbus

That time I took pictures of dying children, some of the other children tried to kill me.
—Alf Kumalo

Photography is choosing where to point your eye-cone.
—John Szarkowski

I like to hide my camera and use a remote control, because then no one knows when I’m actually imprisoning their souls in the visual plane of thought or just sitting there, waiting, and then making time stop. The printed film is like a bell used to symbolize its hour. Except it stands for both that hour’s and everything’s sudden stopping.
—Margaret Bourke-White

I don’t get straight people, but I understand what they look like.
—Duane Michals

There are three reasons why people collect photographs. It’s either a picture of them looking good in it, a picture of someone they love looking good in it, or a picture of someone they will one day seek a pure and utter revenge upon looking like they probably deserved it all along.
—From Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, 1951


A photograph of your enemy’s corpse is the best way to remind yourself that he’s dead.
—From Euclides da Cunha’s Rebellion in the Backlands, 1902

Photography is going to bring about world peace, maybe.
—László Moholy-Nagy, 1925

The best way to survive terrorism is to make a profit off of its depiction.
—From the New York Times, October 29, 1974

I want my photographs to say: “Look—there’s this thing you haven’t seen that you should see.”
—Emmet Gowin

The only way to recover the old world is to induce the media into vomiting it back up.
—Marshall McLuhan

True villains are extremely photogenic.
—Wallace Stevens

Everyone looks the same to me in a photograph: stupid.
—Søren Kierkegaard, 1854

Note to self: KALEIDOSCOPE.
—William H. Fox Talbot (miscellaneous note dated February 18, 1839)

This anthology originally appeared in the 2014 VICE photo issue. See more of Paul Legault's work on his website.