What Makes a Photograph Art?

“A photograph isn’t successful unless you capture the subject’s inner life.”
  • Transcript


Question: Which photographers have inspired you?

Carol Friedman:  For me there were two photographers, just two photographers, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, and if, you know, I talk about music lineage I guess if there was lineage I come from that school, not the Cartier-Bresson school, not the Diane Arbus school, although we all experiment when we’re coming up, and I had my…  You know, I did run around Paris with my Leica being Cartier-Bresson, and I did, you know, knock on the door of a gypsy family and be Diane Arbus. So we go through our stages. But I was always interested in the blank canvas, and I learned that the blank canvas existed through Penn and Avedon, and I had very different energies and I never got to meet either one of them or photograph them, but that’s kind of, their work is just, again, indelible.

Question: What makes a photograph art? 

Carol Friedman: I studied with Philippe Halsman.  He was a great Life magazine photographer and it was his edict that a photograph isn’t successful unless you capture the subject’s inner life, so I heard that, you know, before I was 20 and that still resonates for me, so if you can’t…  If you don’t know who someone is by looking at the picture that I’ve taken then I haven’t succeeded, so in terms of greatness of photography I think that extends to everybody’s work.  You know you want to believe the moment.  I mean there are rotten ads and there are great ads in the commercial world.  I mean that Louis Vuitton campaign, it’s brilliant. And then there are other ones that I just want to roll my eyes and say are kidding? you know that you take someone very famous in a Dolce & Gabbana ad, who is past the age that she should be for this ad, you know, with fake cleavage and a cat that looks miserable and it’s not working for me.  You know, and then you turn the page and there is a Guess Jeans ad that is so working and it is just singing off the page because it’s real and because the energy is all there and all the elements come together in the right way.

Recorded on April 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen