“I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”

When I first saw this quote, I nodded my head in agreement. Then I saw the accompanying image. The notion of creation and creativity when it comes to photography is something I have struggled with since I picked up a camera. When I paint on canvas or draw on paper, I am indeed “creating something which would not have existed without me.” When I photograph the light coming through the clouds over mountains and a stream, however, I am merely noticing, selecting, and recording what was already there. Even in post-production, I am not so much creating as enhancing. A staged photo with models or a still life could be considered creative, as it was contrived by placing the model or objects and controlling the light. I’m not altogether sure that the image presented here is any more creative than the photograph of water running over rocks that the artist derides in his quote.

Art of Quotation

“If all your life means to you is water running over rocks, then photograph it, but I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”

— Minor White, photographer

Featured image: Grand Tetons, 1959, Minor White


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5 thoughts on ““I want to create something that would not have existed without me.”

  1. It’s a stunning photo, but anyone with a phone in their pocket would be snapping and posting to instagram in a hurry. It’s an odd quote, I agree.

  2. There’s a continuum of creativity in photography. From vacation landscape snaps, to seeing things that nobody else sees, to staging scenes, to highly manipulated photographic processes. Don’t underestimate the creative value in finding great images in the things you see.

    • Yes, there is a continuum. In fact, the work of Minor White includes a lot of very abstract and creative images. The one used in conjunction with the quote I see as more observational and compositional skill rather than creativity. I definitely don’t see it as creating something that would not have existed without him. He documented something that anyone there would have noticed. It didn’t even take keen observation to snap that image.

      • Yes, but… he still made an image that didn’t exist before. I don’t know the image in question, but assuming it’s a decent one, he went through the effort of composing it and it looks nice. And maybe many others composed the same scene, but it’s still an image you can’t see when you’re there in person. Even if you view the resultant image immediately after snapping the “shutter,” it’s still different than you can see when looking at the same scene in the same moment. I’m not saying it’s better, or worse, just that there is creating happening.

        And I find it sort of a paradox, that what you see in the image never exactly existed. Changing the scene to two dimensions changes it. Even more importantly, the fact that the scene is framed and isolated from what is around it, makes it so you can never really see in real life what’s in the image.

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